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Friday, November 29, 2013

For Egypt’s New Rulers, Familiar Scapegoats

This week, when Egypt’s military-backed government issued arrest warrants for Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Maher â€" two activist bloggers who helped drive the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011 only to find themselves blamed for inciting unrest by each successive government â€" the same thought occurred to several readers of their popular Twitter feeds. “The only stability and reliability we have in Egypt,” the journalist Sharif Kouddous joked, “is that successive rulers never fail to arrest @alaa.”

The mood among supporters of the two men turned much darker on Thursday night when Mr. Abd El Fattah’s wife, Manal Hassan, reported that the police had raided their home, dragging off her husband and leaving his blood on the floor.

The English-language news site Mada Masr, which Mr. Abd El Fattah helped design, reported that the raid began at about 10 p.m. local time, when “20 men â€" some of whom were masked and carrying heavy arms â€" broke the door down, entered the house and began confiscating the family’s computers and mobile phones.” According to Ms. Hassan, when her husband asked the officers for a warrant, they beat him and slapped her in the face.

In a statement decrying his arrest, and that of two dozen activists detained at a protest in Cairo on Tuesday, the blogger’s supporters explained that he has now been made a scapegoat for unrest by four successive Egyptian governments:

The persecution of Alaa Abd El Fattah is a recurring theme in Egypt. He was jailed under the Mubarak regime for 45 days and again by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in 2011 - when he returned from giving a keynote speech at a technology conference in San Francisco to turn himself in. He remained in jail for almost two months, missing the birth of his son, Khalid. He also faced trumped up charges designed to intimidate protest under the Morsi government in 2013 along with popular satirist Bassem Youssef.

As Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch suggested, the raid Thursday night seemed excessive given that the suspect was a writer and software developer who had already announced plans to turn himself in at noon on Saturday in a statement broadcast to his 500,000 Twitter followers and sent by telegram and registered letter to the authorities.

Any claim that Mr. Abd El Fattah was a flight risk would seem to be undermined by his behavior two years ago, when he was summoned by a military prosecutor to answer similar charges during a visit to the United States, and chose to return home and face imprisonment rather than seek asylum abroad.

In a video interview recorded in the United States in late 2011, the Egyptian activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah explained why he planned to return home despite the threat of persecution.

In a Facebook post explaining his decision, translated into English by his aunt, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, Mr. Abd El Fattah wrote on Wednesday:

The charge â€" it appears â€" is that I participated in inviting people to protest yesterday, in front of the Shura Council building, against placing â€" for the second time â€" an article in the constitution legitimizing the court-martial of civilians.

The strange thing is that both the Prosecutor and the Ministry of the Interior knew that I was present for 8 hours at First Police Station New Cairo in solidarity with the people arrested yesterday on the same charges. But neither the Prosecutor nor the MOI ordered my arrest at the time or demanded that I be questioned. This probably means that they intend to put on a show where I play the criminal-in-hiding.

So, despite the following facts:

That I do not recognize the anti-protest law that the people have brought down as promptly as they brought down the monument to the military’s massacres â€"

That the legitimacy of the current regime collapsed with the first drop of blood shed in front of the Republican Guard Club â€"

That any possibility of saving this legitimacy vanished when the ruling four (Sisi, Beblawi, Ibrahim and Mansour) committed war crimes during the break-up of the Rab’a sit-in â€"

That the Public Prosecutor’s Office displayed crass subservience when it provided legal cover for the widest campaign of indiscriminate administrative detention in our modern history, locking up young women, injured people, old people and children, and holding in evidence against them balloons and T-shirts â€"

That the clear corruption in the judiciary is to be seen in the overharsh sentences against students whose crime was their anger at the murder of their comrades, set against light sentences and acquittals for the uniformed murderers of those same young people â€"

Despite all this, I have decided to do what I’ve always done and hand myself in to the Public Prosecutor.

I do not deny the charge - even though I cannot claim the honour of bringing the people into the street to challenge the attempts to legitimize the return of the Mubarak state.

As the Egyptian journalist who blogs as Zeinobia reported, within hours of the raid, hackers seized control of the email account and Twitter feed of Mr. Abd El Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif. A fellow-activist who helped found the No Military Trials for Civilians movement, Ms. Seif was detained at a protest on Tuesday and dropped off by the police late that night on a desert road outside Cairo.

While the hackers, who called for Ms. Seif’s arrest, claimed to be from the anarchist group Anonymous, her cousin Omar Robert Hamilton was not alone in suspecting that the Egyptian police were more likely suspects than a group that normally opposes state power.

As Al Jazeera reported in 2006, when Mr. Abd El Fattah continued to post scathing attacks on the Mubarak government on his blog from jail, he comes from a family well-known for resisting the Egyptian security state. His mother, mother, Laila Soueif, told Al Jazeera that her son had moved from being an observer of protests to a participant when he intervened to keep her from being beaten at an antigovernment demonstration in 2005.

“Blogging on the Nile,” a 2006 Al Jazeera report on Egyptian activists, featuring interviews with the family of Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was detained at the time.

His father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a human rights lawyer who was jailed for five years during Mubarak’s rule, recently appeared in a video promoting the No to Military Trials for Civilians movement.

A promotional video released this week by the No Military Trials for Civilians movement, featuring testimony by Ahmed Seif al-Islam, the father of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Mona Seif.

Meanwhile, as my colleague Mayy el-Sheikh reported, Egypt’s state-run media suddenly started referring to all activists who are not in the Muslim Brotherhood as either soccer hooligans or members of Mr. Maher’s April 6 movement.

Hours before the raid, the two men had discussed the death of a student protester in clashes with the police at Cairo on Thursday, in a Twitter conversation overheard by hundreds of thousands of their followers.

Video of Egyptian police officers firing tear gas and shotgun pellets at protesters inside Cairo University on Thursday, where one student was killed.

After the student who was killed during the clashes at Cairo University was buried on Friday, prosecutors announced manslaughter charges, not against any police officer, but against four of the student protesters.