CAIRO: Activists are expected to take to the streets in protest today, despite an official statement by the government warning of the consequences. In an effort to avoid more violent clashes between police and protestors, organizers have called for an all-night sit-in nearby to where two judges are set to face disciplinary hearings.
Hisham El-Bastawisy and Mahmoud Mekki are facing a disciplinary hearing on accusations of damaging the reputation of the judiciary by sounding the whistle on election abuses last year. However, the attendance of Bastiwisy is questionable after he reportedly suffered a heart attack. Judges Club President Zakaria Abdel Aziz tells Reuters that Bastiwisy remains in serious condition and his absence from court today is imminent.
Judges insist that Mekki will not go to the hearing alone, although the court date has not officially been canceled. Mekki and Bastiwisi attempted to bring in a 150-strong delegation to last week s session, although the courts only permitted the defense team to join.
Last week s protests sparked widespread violence that was later condemned by Washington and the European Union. Activists were dragged and beaten by plain-clothed police clutching batons, and several were forcibly escorted into nearby buildings. Journalists were attacked as police sought to confiscate cameras and video tapes. Protests mobilized in at least three locations. However, in all cases, security forces quickly moved in and broke up the crowds. A total of 255 people have been taken into custody during protests backing the two judges.
Yesterday, police reportedly fired tear gas at protesters who gathered in the Delta town of Shibin El-Kom, at the law courts in solidarity with the judges. The Ministry of Interior released a statement earlier this week warning of penalties against those who protest illegally. According to the statement, any unauthorized protests are in violation of Egyptian law and arrests will be warranted.
It sounds more like a threat than a statement, says Gasser Abdel-Razek, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. This statement raises concerns of major human rights violations towards the demonstrators.
Activists hope that by gathering in the middle of the night, it might ensure accessibility to the court. Last week, riot police formed human blockades sealing off streets that lead up to the courts.
They are going to block our efforts tomorrow, says Rabab El-Mahdi, an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo and one of the organizers of today s protests. They have issued a warning. This is their way of giving themselves a pretext for using violence tomorrow.
The protests last week drew worldwide criticism. The EU called the violence a disproportionate use of force by security officials. A statement from the U.S. State Department following the clashes urged the Egyptian government to allow peaceful demonstrations on behalf of reform and civil liberties.
Gamal Mubarak, President Hosni Mubarak s elder son who many suspect might look to succeed his father, met briefly last week with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington during a visit with senior policy makers. The visit, while brief, has raised concerns among oppositionists who say the younger Mubarak is being groomed to take over for his father.
The public statements made by both the EU and the U.S. are not affecting the Egyptian government since the aid money is still flowing, and the son of the president has met more people in the U.S. administration in one day than most presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens would meet in their life-times, adds Abdel-Razek.
The Judges Club, which represents more than 8,000 judges in Egypt, has fought for years to win their independence from the executive branch of the government. The group threatened to boycott last September s presidential elections, although a deal was struck within days of the vote. Absence of the judges could present a violation to the constitution as judicial supervision is required for any election.
Late last year, the Judges’ Club released a report with blaring accusations of fraud during the May 25th referendum, and later during the presidential election. A new report is due out citing acts of misconduct during the three-phase parliamentary elections.
The fact remains that the judges are numerous, influential and well organized. The protests last week, for example, were a coordinated effort by the nation s secular opposition groups and the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt s largest opposition group. Nonetheless, activists worry that the judges will fold, conceding to increasing pressure by the government.
I am worried that this fight will end in a way that s frustrating, like if the judges reach a compromise that is humiliating for all of us and way below our expectations, says El-Mahdi.
The case of El-Bastiwisy and Mekki has reignited calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Habib El-Adly who has been under fire for the government s handling of a number of internal security upheavals. The recent attacks on the Sinai resort town of Dahab, coupled with the renewal of the controversial Emergency Law, has riled up opposition groups more than ever.
In response to the latest warning by the Ministry of the Interior, the EOHR will challenge the constitutionality of the law banning unauthorized protests. Article 54 of the Egyptian constitution says that citizens have the right to peaceful and unarmed private assembly without the need for prior notice. The group plans to file a motion with the administrative court today geared toward allowing protests.
The regime has a choice to make, warns Abdel-Razek. Either it can allow peaceful dissent, demonstrations, vigils, freedom of expression and start the promised political reform process, or it will drag itself and the country into chaos. Obviously, part of the regime, the Minister of the Interior especially, has chosen the second option.