As Egypt’s generals widen crackdown, new protest law stirs resistance

A military-appointed, 50-member committee approved a draft of amendments to the Egyptian constitution on Dec. 1. The draft was to be submitted on Dec. 3 to “interim” President Adly Mansour, who will decide whether presidential or parliamentary elections will be held first in Egypt’s so-called political “roadmap.”

The committee, known as a “constituent assembly,” has been working on the constitutional amendments for months. It was appointed after the military seized power on July 3 from President Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which was allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thousands of Morsi’s supporters were massacred in the first weeks after the coup. His party was banned, and he has been held in detention since then, charged with “violent crimes” both during the popular uprising in 2011 against the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and after he was elected president.

The only public appearance allowed Morsi came at the beginning of his trial when he was defiant toward his captors. The trial was adjourned after a brief hearing, and the deposed president has not been seen since.

A political crisis under Morsi’s leadership was utilized by the military to ration­alize the seizure of power. At the time, many Egyptians argued that the July 3 military actions were in fact not a coup but a continuation of the “January 25 Revolution” of 2011, when millions took to the streets demanding the resignation of Mubarak and his National Democratic Party regime.

Political winds shift against military

Nonetheless, many of those who supported the coup against Morsi are now having second thoughts. The failure of the military-appointed regime to effectively address the overall economic and social conditions inside the country is one factor in the growing opposition, as well as the recent passage of a “protest law” that requires all demonstrations to obtain the approval of the “interim” government.

Those who challenge military rule have met harsh repression, including beatings, tear gas, arrests and even death. In Alexandria, 21 young women were sentenced to 11 years in prison for demonstrating against the military regime. The chief lawyer for the women, Ahmed El-Hamrawy, was reported missing on Dec. 2. Egyptian authorities have denied he is being held in detention, but a report published Dec. 2 by Ahram Online stated that “The lawyer’s wife and his defense colleague Mahmoud Gaber accused security forces of having allegedly arrested El-Hamrawy at his Alexandria home and taken him to an undisclosed location.”

A subsequent Dec. 2 report indicated that the prosecutor’s office had ordered El-Hamrawy released after several hours of questioning.

During a demonstration at Cairo University on Nov. 28 against the sentencing of the Alexandria women, 19-year-old Mohamed Reda was shot dead, reportedly by security forces. Reda’s death has sparked anger and additional protests among students across Egypt.

In an effort to defuse the controversy, the general prosecutor’s office alleged on Dec. 2 that Reda was killed by a fellow student. This has been rejected by his student supporters.

Ahram Online reported, “In a subsequent statement, the student union from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering, the same faculty in which Reda had been studying, slammed the prosecution’s report as ‘lying’ and a ‘fabrication,’ and vowed not to give up the slain student’s rights, raising the possibility of renewed protests. Security forces fired teargas on Sunday [Dec. 1] to disperse hundreds of Islamist student protesters who had gathered in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square to condemn the killing of their colleague.” (Dec. 2)

Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, a leading organization in the January 2011 uprising, is also facing prosecution by the regime. He was detained in late November for supposedly violating the new protest law.

Maher was released from jail on Dec. 1, but his organization has condemned the ongoing detention of activists under the military. Renowned blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah was also arrested in late November on charges of violating the protest law and remains in jail.

Rejecting the leadership of the FJP under President Morsi, many of the youth leaders of the January 2011 uprising initially supported the July coup and have refused to join anti-military demonstrations. However, the political situation appears to be shifting; the potential for new alliances may emerge amid an escalating military crackdown on the more secular elements within Egyptian politics.

One leftist youth organizer noted in the Ahram Online report: “Many people did not go out on the streets because of the absence of a clear demand. But, after a while, things have become clear again. The state is still trying to preserve and renew its oppressive tools,” said socialist activist Khaled Abdel-Hamid.

“The interior ministry and all the security apparatuses are doing their utmost to exact revenge on the symbols of the January 2011 revolution,” Abdel-Hamid continued. He is a member of the Way of the Revolution Front, founded in September as a so-called “third political force” opposed to both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, thousands of workers at the Egyptian Iron & Steel Factory located in Helwan, south of Cairo, went on a partial strike Dec. 2 in a dispute over supplemental bonus pay. The workers had engaged in a sit-in since Nov. 26.

The plight of these workers is reflective of the overall economic crisis gripping the country. The plant has laid off 60 percent of its workforce over the last few years.

Role of U.S. in Egyptian crisis

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Egypt and announced that Washington would maintain relations with Cairo. It had been announced that the Obama administration was suspending aid, pending the outcome of the current crisis of governance inside the country. But Kerry indicated that only certain aspects of military aid to Egypt would be suspended and that relations between the two governments were not based solely upon military assistance.

The Egyptian ruling class in the later years of the Anwar Sadat leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and during the course of Mubarak’s three-decade tenure between 1981 and 2011, has remained a close ally of U.S. imperialism. The Obama administration has still not labeled the July 3 army seizure of power a coup.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its assistance to Egypt in the aftermath of the coup. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also visited Egypt in November and announced plans for greater cooperation between the two countries.

Much of the Egyptian economy is under the control of the generals. The escalating political crisis in Egypt stems from the failure of the state and the capitalist owners it protects, both uniformed and civilian, to provide a decent standard of living for the majority of the people.

As long as Egypt remains within the sphere of imperialist influence and control, the conditions for the workers, farmers and youth will not improve.

Even since the toppling of Mubarak, who now has been released and is at home under military protection, Cairo has not fundamentally shifted its policy on Israel. Several months ago the military, along with the Israeli Defense Forces, destroyed tunnels utilized by Palestinians to transport much-needed food and supplies to the 1.5 million people of Gaza, which has been called the largest open-air prison in the world.