Egypt Marks Anniversary as Jails Fill With Mubarak Foes

Egypt’s interior minister has urged people into the streets and squares tomorrow to mark three years since the revolt against Hosni Mubarak. Many activists behind the uprising see little to celebrate, and some of its iconic figures will be spending the anniversary in prison.

“It’s only the faces that have changed, without any real change to the way the country and its economy are run,” Amr Ali says of the new Egypt, now headed by an army-backed government after elected President Mohamed Mursi was toppled in July. “There’s no longer talk of freedoms because virtually no one still believes in the importance of freedoms.”

Ali says dozens of members of his 6th of April youth movement, at the forefront of the 2011 protests, have been arrested in recent months. Ahmed Maher, one of its founders, has been jailed. Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood has been the target of a much tougher crackdown since his removal, labeled a terrorist group. The ex-president and several other leaders are on trial, and hundreds of supporters have been killed by security forces.

Tomorrow’s anniversary may be a trigger for more violence, with the Brotherhood calling for a new “revolutionary wave.” Ali said he views it as an opportunity “to renew the demands” of the 2011 uprising. Authorities aren’t taking any chances: about 260,000 police backed by armored vehicles will be deployed, according to the official Middle East News Agency.

An explosion near the police headquarters in Cairo today killed at least three people and injured 47, Al-Jazeera television reported, citing the Health Ministry.

Will He Run?

Government officials say they are restoring democracy, pointing to the constitution approved by referendum last week, with presidential elections due later this year. Looming over the anniversary is the question of whether Abdelfatah al-Seesi, the defense minister who toppled Mursi, will run. He’s a hero for many Egyptians seeking stability after years of political unrest and economic stagnation. Critics say that today’s Egypt is replicating some of the worst aspects of Mubarak’s.

The “most salient feature” of Egypt’s political scene is the “general atmosphere of crackdown on dissent that exists and that appears to have public backing,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Repression “has extended far beyond just the Brotherhood and now encompasses known activists and secular opposition figures.”

Amnesty International said this week that Egypt has seen “state violence on an unprecedented scale” since al-Seesi overthrew Mursi. The government says it’s the target of violence, pointing to a wave of militant attacks, including one in Beni Suef south of Cairo yesterday that killed five policemen.

Topple Regime

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who survived an assassination attempt in September, promised that celebrations tomorrow will be safe, according to MENA.

The Brotherhood, which also played a part in protests against Mubarak, says it’s committed to peacefully reversing what it calls the “coup” that toppled Mursi. It’s urging demonstrators to call for “the toppling of the regime,” a slogan similar to those used in 2011.

At the other end of the spectrum, politician Moustafa Bakri, speaking at a recent rally to support al-Seesi for president, called for gatherings tomorrow to “celebrate the revolution” and the police.

Officials have been rallying support for the police, accused by activists of abuses, as the anniversary nears. President Adly Mansour said yesterday that Egypt has embarked on a new era “that puts an inevitable end to a police state.”

‘Who’s Going to Work?’

There’s little indication of an end to Egypt’s economic gloom, though. Output has been growing at the slowest pace in two decades, even though stocks and bonds have rebounded since the army intervention. The grievances over jobs and prices that helped fuel the 2011 demonstrations are still widespread.

Many voters in the referendum last week cited the need for stability and economic recovery, as well as anger at the Brotherhood, as reasons for backing the new charter. It was approved by 98 percent of those casting ballots, with a turnout of 39 percent, according to official figures. The Brotherhood and some other opposition groups boycotted the vote.

Heba Mohamed, a housewife, said she’d watch any celebrations and demonstrations tomorrow from a distance.

“If everyone is on the street protesting or celebrating, who’s going to work and build the country?” she said. “Enough with the instability, bloodshed and violence. We really need to move on with our lives.”

The secular activists who were prominent in 2011 mostly fell out with the Brotherhood during Mursi’s presidency, even though several had supported his candidacy.

Critical Mass

“The activists’ dilemma is really acute,” Hanna said. “Because they don’t hold that critical mass in society, their activism is often to the benefit of the two everlasting contenders for political power in Egypt,” the military and the Brotherhood.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a well-known activist now behind bars and facing accusations including violation of the new protest law, wrote a letter to his family lamenting that “the state of the revolution is so miserable.” It was posted online by his sister.

“There’s no meaning for my imprisonment, except that it frees me from my feeling of guilt for my helplessness in the face of extreme oppression,” he wrote.

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