FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Hard Blow to Political Freedom in Egypt

by ALESSANDRA BAJEC

Twenty-one women -including girls as young as 15- were handed down heavy prison sentences by Alexandria Misdemeanour Court on Nov. 27, after being arrested, end of October, for protesting against the military’s July 3 ouster of President Morsi. The Egyptian court sentenced fourteen women –most aged 18 to 22- to 11 years and one month in prison, and seven female minors -15 to 17 years old- to juvenile detention until they reach the age of majority. The tough verdict marks another setback for freedom of expression in Egypt but also an unprecedented step by the new leadership to take women out of the political scene.

Ahmed Shazli, head of the Alexandria branch of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), couldn’t find the words to comment on the verdict when he came out of the courtroom. For him, the sentence essentially okays imprisonment of protesters for expressing dissent, and hints at a comeback to Mubarak styled autocratic regime and oppressive practices.

pic.1_by Rania Helmy_independent journalist

The 21 female defendants were convicted on several charges including damaging public property and stirring violence.

In addition, six men –who are said to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Alexandria- were sentenced to 15 years in prison for instigating violence during the protest.

Shazli decided to document the case after he heard about the arrest of the 21 women, which he defined as a violation of personal, civil rights and gender equality, moreover involving under age youth.

The young women are part of ‘7 am’, a youth movement launched last month in Alexandria that holds protests in the early morning -before school starts- against what members describe as the military coup that led to Morsi’s overthrow.

The girls were arrested on Oct. 31 during a demonstration near Stanley Bridge, on the Alexandria corniche, when protest participants formed a human chain before they were attacked by security forces. They were transferred to the Alexandria Security Directorate, where they were brought before the Public Prosecution. The adult women were sent to the Damanhour women’s prison while the minors were placed in the Defense Care Facility in Muharram Bek.

One young man was also arrested but released soon after, as the police reportedly established he had no connection with ‘7 am’ group.

Defence attorney Ayman Dally got involved in the case as one of the detainees is his niece. He recollected from testimonies that security forces intervened with six armed vehicles separating demonstrators from the crowd – a well known military tactic- leading to police cruisers to arrest the girls, some of them at gunpoint. Dally pointed out it was a joint operation carried out by the police and army, inviting to watch youtube videos that clearly show that.

The general prosecution charged the women with belonging to the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood, promoting ideas of the group, possessing and distributing flyers inciting violence, assembly, threatening violence, obstructing public transport and vandalizing properties.
A statement by the prosecutor general claimed the defendants denied the charges against them.

As EIPR representative, Shazli condemned the arrest of 21 women stressing that the right of peaceful assembly is a fundamental right of every citizen. He dismissed the allegations as fabrication of reports by the police, adding that such practices are aimed to exclude women from the public space through direct targeting. EIPR’s director expressed deep concern over the unprecedented mass arrest of female protestors.

Dally remembered bizarre incidents following the arrest such as the quick transfer of the women from Alexandria police station to prison, while lawyers were making appeal against their detention –which was then rejected- the sudden appointment of a new judge –by the Minister of Justice- who took over the case, the denied access of lawyers to court at the juvenile facility, or the prolonged custody of the defendants.
Alexandria prosecution renewed detention of the women for 15 days on Nov. 12 pending investigation.

Attorney Dally rebuffed the accusations considering them false. He acknowledged the power of authorities to set measures of public order, however he argued against the use of ‘illegal methods’, under the cover of a ‘legal makeup’, to oppress citizens who gather peacefully and express their opinion.

‘’In no circumstances, these girls can be seen as terrorists or criminals’’, Dally stated.

The lawyer also lamented the repeated delays from the public attorney office in providing copy of the case file to the court. The file was received a day and a half before the trial on Nov. 20, which gave the defence team a very limited time to review the case, the judge himself received the case the morning of the trial. On the day, the police did not bring the defendants to court citing ‘security reasons’. Unable to trial the girls in their absence, the court finally decided to postpone for another week.
A plethora of lawyers from four human rights organizations, private lawyers and lawyers assigned by parents of the detainees worked on the case, standing for the right to freedom of expression for all.

In Dally’s view, detention of the women was a well planned ‘set up’, designed by some high ranking security officers, to specifically target women, to prevent other women from coming out and demonstrating.

‘’The outcome is, nevertheless, the opposite’’, the lawyer opined, ‘’we see more women, not less, in the streets’’. He called the targeting of women by security forces a ‘mistake’, suggesting there’s already some resentment in the police department, since this case will spark a lot of anger in Egypt, where women are a ‘red line’.

Hatem, an Islamist activist in Alexandria, is acquainted with the girls in ‘7am’. He apologized for not being able to bring any of them, saying they were scared to go into town with the risk of being caught up by police officers.
The fact that 21 women were arrested, and no man was detained, is something new to Egyptians.

Hatem explained that women have played a big part in anti-government protests since after the ouster of Morsi, their large participation has in turn prompted security forces to respond with repressive methods. Which has, instead, generated greater determination among women to continue protesting.

In his opinion, female protesters were deliberately convicted to scare women off, and thus silence an active part of the society.
‘’What’s shocking is that for the first time young women have been detained in Egypt’’, the activist commented, ‘’it’s totally unacceptable’’.

The conviction of the 21 women comes amid other ongoing violations committed by security forces against freedom of expression.
Earlier this month, 12 university students were sentenced to 17 years in prison over riots at Al-Azhar University drawing criticism over the harshness of the sentence.
Egypt’s authorities have cracked down hard on Islamist backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Security forces have recently moved against secular youth activists opposed to the military and police.

Alessandra Bajec lived in Palestine between June 2010 and May 2011 starting to work as a freelance journalist. Her articles have appeared in various Palestinian newswires, the European Journalism Centre’s magazine, The Majalla, among others.

Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist based in Cairo. Between 2010 and 2011, she lived in Palestine. Her articles have appeared in the European Journalism Centre’s magazine, IRIN and The Majalla among others. She can be followed on Twitter at @AlessandraBajec

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail