Egypt police arrest 183 protesters gathered in defiance of law banning demos

Egypt police arrest 183 protesters gathered in defiance of law banning demos

CAIRO - Agence France-Presse
Egypt police arrest 183 protesters gathered in defiance of law banning demos

Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Morsi supporters shout slogans during during a demonstration in Cairo on Nov. 29. AFP photo

Egyptian police arrested nearly 200 people Nov. 29, clamping down harshly on protesters, mostly the supporters of the ousted President Mohemed Morsi, defying a new law banning unauthorised demonstrations. The law has also angered prominent secular activists.

Despite the law decreed on Nov. 24, the Muslim Brotherhood vowed to go ahead with protests it has organised after weekly prayers ever since the military takeover on July 3.

The protests come a day after police arrested prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, in a stark declaration of intent reminiscent of the autocratic rule of president Hosni Mubarak, who was driven from office by a popular uprising nearly three years ago.

In Cairo, police used tear gas against hundreds of Morsi supporters who had gathered in front of one of the capital's presidential palaces, an AFP reporter said, adding that he also heard gunshots.

They also fired tear gas at dozens of Islamists in the capital's Mohandessin district and on a key road leading to the Giza pyramids. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones and burning tyres in Mohandessin, officials said.

Other protests were dispersed in second city Alexandria, as well as in Suez, Mahallah and Qena, but details were sketchy.

At least 183 people were arrested nationwide, including 106 only in Cairo, the interior ministry said, and eight people were wounded.

The incidents also came two days after an Alexandria court jailed 14 women to 11 years in jail and seven girls to juvenile detention for participating in a violent pro-Morsi demonstration last month.

The harsh jail terms raised calls from rights groups for a presidential pardon.

But Ali Awad, adviser to interim president Adly Mansour, said Friday that "reports of a presidential pardon granted to these women are incorrect." "Any presidential pardon is possible only after a final verdict" is delivered, he said in a statement on the government's official website.

Arrest of activist sparks outcry among secularist groups

The new protest law requires organisers to seek authorisation three days ahead of any planned demonstration, and permission can be denied if the event is deemed as a threat to national security.

On Nov. 28, the interior ministry warned against "demonstrations that break the law without obtaining prior permission from security forces" and said "it will deal with these illegal activities firmly and decisively." To the anger of secularists who supported Morsi's overthrow, police have acted against all demonstrations, not just those organised by the ousted president's backers.

Activists say the ban is hypocritical, as the army justified the ouster as a response to mass demonstrations across the country against Morsi's turbulent single year in power.

Pro-democracy groups have been particularly incensed by the arrest on Nov. 29 of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent Morsi opponent. On Nov. 29, he was bound over for four days of preventive detention.

Judicial sources say Abdel Fattah is accused of holding an unauthorised demonstration, inciting people to riot, cutting off roads, beating a police officer and stealing his walkie-talkie.

Prosecutors had issued warrants on Nov. 27 for his arrest and that of fellow activist Ahmed Maher for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration the previous day.

Abdel Fattah was detained under Mubarak, under the military junta that ousted him, and again under Morsi.

Reports of abuses

On Nov.29, Maher, who is still at large tweeted that "our dream was to live with dignity but the army, Mubarak's corrupt regime and their allies... are fighting it with the arrests and crackdowns." Human rights groups too have lashed out at arrests of protesters opposing the disputed law.

The International Federation for Human Rights said Nov. 29 that, in the past few days, it "has documented several cases of arrests, detention and beating of protesters as well as cases of sexual harassment towards both men and women."

Analysts say the mounting disillusion of veteran activists such as Abdel Fattah and Maher may strain the unlikely coalition of security hawks and liberal democrats installed by the military after Morsi's ouster.