A clampdown on opposition activity in Egypt has seen
the arrests of three socialist activists, and the hitherto moderate MP, Ayman
Nour, the head of the recently formed Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) opposition party who
was arrested as he left parliament on 29th January.
According to the
Egyptian paper Al Ahram,
the three activists were arrested at the Cairo Book Fair for allegedly
possessing leaflets that incite hatred of the regime. The leaflets in question
were invitations to a 4 February demonstration organised by the Egyptian Popular
Movement for Change (EPMC) against President Hosni Mubarak's re-nomination for a
fifth presidential term. The EPMC, along with other activist groups, held the
first ever anti-Mubarak demonstration in downtown Cairo last December under the
(enough). This coalition of activists - who include Nasserites, socialists and
Islamists - was set up last year with the express purpose of opposing Mubarak's
re-nomination for a fifth term.
coalition is demanding a change in the constitution to allow contested
presidential elections. Currently the Egyptian constitution requires that a
presidential candidate must have the support of one third of MPs, and two thirds
of the People's Assembly before his name is put before the public in a yes/no
referendum. This means it is impossible for President Mubarak to be challenged
at the ballot box. Elections for the parliament are conducted under a 24
year-old Emergency Law and there is massive vote rigging, which gives the ruling
pro-American National Democratic Party (NDP) an effective monopoly of power.
Ziyad El-Elami, lawyer
for the activists, says Marwa Farouk and Baho Abdallah were standing at the
fair's Socialist Studies Centre (SSC) booth when security personnel approached
them, and asked them to go to the fair's police station. Ibrahim El-Sahhary was
arrested when he went to the police to find out what had happened. The SSC was
selling a book called A Socialist Vision
for Change in Egypt, a compilation of
articles on the debate about the president's re-nomination for a fifth term. A
statement issued by the SSC said that Abdallah was merely standing at the booth
with her friend Farouk when the arrest took place, and has nothing to do with
the centre's work. El-Elami said the police confiscated Abdallah's British
passport. Fortunately, the two women have now been released, but Ibrahim El
Sahhary remains in custody.
Phil Marfleet says that
the Stop the War Coalition in London has received this message from activists in
Cairo before the release of the two activists: "We
can use all the solidarity you can mobilize for us. A delegation went to the
office of the prosecutor-general and submitted the 2,000 signatures on the
petition against Mubarak and stating that they should be equally 'charged' since
they constitute the founders of the Popular Campaign for Change. Our morale is
high as is that of our three friends. Everybody is determined to proceed with
our activities. Everybody can see now that there is no other choice."
Solidarity must continue until Ibrahim El Sahhary is also free.
Both Ibrahim and Marwa
were arrested for anti-war activities in April 2003. Ibrahim told Amnesty
International on his release later that year that he was blindfolded and
severely beaten during his detention. Hundreds of anti-war protestors were
arrested during demonstrations in March 2003 against the invasion of Iraq and
many were tortured in custody.
solidarity to secure the release of Ibrahim is essential.
This attack, part of intensive efforts by the Egyptian government to silence
democracy activists, gives added importance to the presence of international
delegates at the Third Cairo Conference: International Campaign against US
Aggression (Thursday 24 to Sunday 27 March)