Blasphemy furore masking Morsi’s failure

Alber Saber, a young Egyptian blogger and computer science graduate has been arrested and detained for allegedly posting a trailer for an anti-Islam film on Facebook. The trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” deemed insulting to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, had earlier been lifted from YouTube in Egypt after it sparked anti-US protests. (more…)

Released Maikel Nabil continues to speak out against military rule

Ten months in a tiny prison cell with padded walls and flickering lights have done little to alter 26 year-old Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil’s views on the military government running Egypt in the transitional phase. Instead, his confinement appears to have only strengthened his resolve to continue the fight against what he describes as a “corrupt regime” that he hopes, will soon be toppled.

Maikel was released on the 24th of January after the military rulers announced they would pardon 1959 political detainees (who had faced military tribunals) ahead of the first anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. The move was seen by skeptics as an attempt to appease a public that has grown increasingly weary of heavy handed military rule. Maikel had been charged with allegedly “spreading rumours about the army and insulting the military establishment” but insists these were “trumped up charges” to punish him for publicly criticising the military in his blog posts.

Leading a protest through the streets of downtown Cairo on Saturday, Maikel chanted anti-military slogans and beckoned to fellow Egyptians on the street to join the rally. “Are you not Egyptian?” he cried. “Have your rights not been violated?” Scores of young activists — many of whom had themselves been subjected to torture and abuse at the hands of security forces — chanted after him. Their cries of “Down with military rule!” and “Yes, we dare to chant against the military” were met with nods of approval from pedestrians and commuters, some of whom signaled a thumbs up in agreement.

Earlier in a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate, Maikel shocked journalists with a graphic account of his jail experience. He recalled having endured verbal abuse and mockery by prison guards and interrogators, being forced to watch fellow convicts being tortured and having had chemicals sprayed up his nose and drugs infused in his meals in attempts to manipulate his thinking. Maikel was then transferred to El- Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital for checks on his sanity. Doctors had resisted pressure from authorities to declare him psychologically unstable for refusing to stand trial, he said.

Samira Ibrahim, a protester who had been detained and subjected to a forced virginity test on the 9 March for camping out in Tahrir Square joined Maikel’s march from the Journalists’ Syndicate to Tahrir Square. She challenged the military council, filing a lawsuit against military rulers for humiliating checks performed on 17 female protesters by a male doctor in the Cairo Museum grounds. She lamented that despite a ruling by a Cairo Adminstrative Court in December declaring an end to the practice, “attempts are underway to change the charge from rape to indecent assault.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets Saturday to commemorate the “Friday of Rage” — the worst day of violence in last year’s mass uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The biggest rally was held on Kasr El Nil Bridge, scene of last year’s bloody clashes between security forces and pro-democracy activists.The protesters demanded justice for the victims and their families, vowing to continue the revolution until their demands are met.

Joining the Kasr el Nil protest, Maikel warned the revolutionaries that their struggle against the military dictatorship must continue “lest the revolution be aborted and they all end up behind bars.” He and the other activists pledged they will not rest until the military returns to the barracks, handing over power to a civilian government.

Egyptians fill Tahrir Square to mark anniversary of 25 January Revolution

Demotix: Nameer GamalIt started as a day of celebration, with tens of thousands of Egyptians converging on Tahrir Square to mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, 25 January. The morning crowd — dominated by bearded Islamists  — waved flags and strolled peacefully in the Square — flashpoint of the eighteen day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.

One year to the day pro-democracy activists held mass protests, and the mood in Tahrir yesterday was one of jubilation and fanfare. Two days earlier, Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament convened for the first time, pledging to work to fulfil the goals of the revolution — including securing justice for the  families of those killed and victims of violence during last year’s mass uprising; a key demand of the revolutionary movements. The Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly, the lower house of the parliament, also made it clear that the military council running Egypt in the transitional period would face close scrutiny from the newly elected lawmakers.

Meanwhile, in an effort to appease a disgruntled public ahead of protests marking the anniversary of the Revolution, the military council announced the release of 1,959 political detainees, most of them pro-democracy activists who had faced military trials . Prominent blogger Maikel Nabil, Egypt’s first prisoner of conscience in the post-revolutionary era, was among the convicts to be set free. The military authority also said it would lift the state of emergency in place since 1981. It added however that the law would continue to apply in cases of ‘thuggery’. Skeptics worry that the exception may be a pretext for continuing arbitrary arrests and detention of civilians without charge, especially as peaceful protesters have been previously described by military generals as “trouble-makers” and “paid agents carrying out foreign agendas.”

Uncertainty about the future failed to dampen the mood in Tahrir Square, as Islamists celebrated the achievements of the past year, relishing their newfound freedom and leadership role. The Muslim Brotherhood — a long time banned group in Egypt won 38 per cent of parliamentary seats for their Freedom and Justice Party in the recent election. The ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party meanwhile secured 29 per cent of the list seats.

“We voted them in and now they will take care of our demands,” Manal Hassan , a veiled housewife and mother of three said confidently.

It wasn’t until early afternoon when thousands more protesters —  mostly secularists and liberals  — converged on Tahrir after marching through the streets from various focal points in the city — that the mood began to shift from celebratory to rebellious. Seeking a new revolt against military rule, the activists began to chant “Down with military rule!”

“We did not come to Tahrir earlier in the day so as to give the Islamists space to celebrate. But it is too early for us to celebrate. We must continue our struggle. Very few of our goals have been met,” said Amr Taher, a student of commerce. His friends nodded in agreement.

“We have walked all the way from Mostafa Mahmoud in Mohandeseen to make our demands clear. We want the military to handover power to a civilian government now,” said advertising agency employee Amina Mansour, 28.

Many liberals feel that little has changed since Mubarak was toppled and say the old regime is still intact. Listing rights violations including military trials for more than 12,000 civilians in the past year, torture in prisons, virginity checks performed on female protesters and intimidation of journalists. Reem Dawoud, activist and member of the “Kazeboon” campaign, launched “to expose the lies of the ruling military council” noted, “A year on, we are still waiting for a free press and an independent judiciary!”

“El Qassas! El Qassas! Justice for the martyrs and their families! ” shouted an elderly activist from the podium, his cries met with cheers and clapping from the crowd below. Before nightfall, an estimated 150,000 protesters had gathered in the Square, sending a strong message to the military authority that “the fear barrier has been broken” and “the rulers are now accountable to their people for the first time ,” as expressed by some Facebook-users in their posts later in the day.

As Egyptians start their second post-revolution year, they are optimistic about the future. “The power is now in the hands of the people for the first time,” author Alaa Aswani said in a televised interview. Confident in their ability to create change, they know it is a matter of time before the military is pushed back to the barracks and power is transferred to a civilian government. And they are hoping for a faster pace of reforms and successful transition to democracy.

“We went off-course for a while this past year because of lack of unity among liberal movements and their inability to reach consensus on the way forward. But now, we seem to have found our way again and are moving on the right track,” said 35 year-old activist Hazem Mahmoud , with a broad smile on his face.

Journalist and television anchor Shahira Amin resigned her post as deputy head of state-run Nile TV on February 2011