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Protest ban

Kristen McTighe, Cairo
May 5, 2014

The crackdown by Egyptian authorities on the April 6 movement that spearheaded the 2011 revolution has made life even more difficult for the group. However, its members are not about to give up.


As she sits in a café in central Cairo with her 13-year-old daughter, Amal Sharaf recalls her time protesting against four Egyptian regimes. As the co-founder of the April 6 Movement, the youth group that helped spearhead the country's 2011 revolution, she protested against Hosni Mubarak, was briefly detained during the 18 day revolution, and her friends were persecuted under Mohammed Morsi, some were even killed. But never, she said, have things been as difficult as they are now.

"Under military rule after Mubarak, we were called traitors, but people were against military rule then," she told DW. "Now, we are called traitors, we are killed, put in jail and our group banned, but the people support the military. People are brainwashed, not everyone, but I've lost hope."

Since the July 3 overthrow of Morsi, protests have been banned, thousands killed, at least 16,000 political dissidents behind bars, and secular democracy activists say the counter revolution is now in full force. But after three years of unrest and many Egyptians fatigued with protest, it is a crackdown that is proceeding with apathy, and often enthusiasm, from the public.

Cancelling the revolution

Last week, a Cairo court ruled in favor of banning the activities of the April 6 movement and ordered the closure the headquarters. The group was found guilty of conspiring with foreign powers and distorting the image of Egypt, charges they deny.

"They are trying to cancel the revolution," said Amr Ali, the group's spokesman in an interview with DW.

Many of the group's members, including their founders Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, have been jailed under a controversial protest law passed last November that bans protests without prior state permission and allows police and military to use excessive and lethal force, a law the government, who was brought to power after mass street protests, says it is necessary after the onslaught of terrorist attacks. Rights groups have called it draconian and in violation of international law.

"The leadership was already in jail and their ability to organize seems to have been impeded. So they have been a bit sidelined already," said Nathan J. Brown, a scholar of Middle Eastern law and politics at George Washington University. "But the real question is whether the ruling will be enforced and if so, how."

While the group has headquarters, leaders say they are rarely used and instead, youth members come together at cafes across the country to socialize and discuss politics. With the group neither an NGO nor a political party, there are no laws regulating their activities.

The court's decision to ban the group was based on evidence from leaked conversations of activists. According to Brown is in clear violation of the law and the fact that the court would act on such evidence while there is no sign of any prosecution for the leak speaks volumes.

"It is difficult to believe anybody other than the security services taped and leaked those conversations," he told DW.

Out for revenge

The movement which advocates nonviolence has been critical of police abuses under Mubarak, Morsi and the new military-backed regime, something that has earned the group the enmity of security forces. Now, activists say security forces angry at the January 25 revolution are out for revenge and acting with no restraint.

"There are no longer red lines," said Sharaf, who for the first time fears for her group's members.

Woman holding poster Copyright: Kristen McTighe
Amal Sharaf is worried about her movement's futureImage: DW/K. McTighe

In recent weeks, secular activists have sought to revive their fight and last week an all-female sit-in was called for at the Presidential Palace in Cairo by the wife of Ahmed Douma, another prominent activist jailed under the protests law, but only a handful of activists were present. On Saturday, a larger rally was called by nine pro-revolution political forces, and although numbers were higher, the march passed without much notice.

"People have been extremely terrified and don't want to protest anymore," said Menna ElShishini, a 20 year-old student at the American University of Paris and an independent protester who took part in the female sit-in last week. "But you can see the current of people realizing that nothing is changing and the fact that we took the step to have a sit in at the presidential palace was a big step. The biggest challenge is getting people to change their minds," she said.

Tired of protests?

But while secular activists and revolutionary groups say they will continue their fight, many Egyptians have grown exhausted of three years of unrest and an economy in shambles.

"We are so tired of protests. If you want to protest, fine, but don't stop others from working," said Ali Gabreel, who owns a tourist shop on a run-down alley off Cairo's Tahrir Square. On his phone, he shows photos of the sparkling glass displays at his former store in a more upscale neighborhood of Cairo that he was forced to move from because he could no longer afford rent when business plummeted after the 2011 revolution. He now spends his days sitting in front of his shop desperate for tourists to pass.

"We have no money, no business, no income, I can't pay my rent and I have kids," said Gabreel, who supported the 2011 revolution. "We have to change our minds, our mentality, not just sit and protest."

And some critics say revolutionaries do little more than take to the streets to revolt and have offered no political alternative. As protest fatigue has led to public apathy when it comes to supporting activists and revolutionary groups, many are even cheering on the violent crackdown. At protests, it has become common for bystanders to violently attack.

Sitting at an open air café along the Nile, Ahmad Abdallah, one of the current leaders of the April 6 Movement, dismissed the idea that they are the cause the instability that has wreacked havoc on the country for the past three years.

man sitting in café copyright: Kristen McTighe
Ahmad Abdallah says the fight will continueImage: DW/K. McTighe

"Stability is not brought by weapons," he told DW.

Following the 2011 revolution, Abdallah was charged with burning the headquarters of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, in a case that rights groups widely denounced as politically motivated. With insufficient evidence, the case was closed but later reopened under Morsi. In November under the current military backed regime, Abdallah was handed a one-year suspended sentence.

But despite what they say has been the harshest crackdown and challenge to the revolution yet, activists say they will continue.

"The revolution came from the demands of the people against poverty, corruption, ignorance, and for human rights," said Abdallah. "These things are still there, so no one can conquer the revolution."

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