January 25, 2014: A Recap

In Egypt, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets nationwide on Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. Many in Tahrir Square came out in support of the military, calling upon General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for president. Despite heightened security in the square, the atmosphere was largely marked by celebration, with even interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy joining in the festivities. Outside the square, protests were instead characterized by clashes. Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and anti-military, anti-Brotherhood secularists alike protested against the military and the country’s interim government. Despite a death toll far higher than the 2011 protests (only three people died in 2011), the Muslim Brotherhood has encouraged its members to continue protesting until the “coup is reversed.” On the third anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, the death toll according to the authorities stood at sixty-four, injuries were well over 200, and the total number of arrests was 1,079. 

Violent Crackdown on Protesters

Security forces cracked down on both secularist and Muslim Brotherhood supporters alike. In Cairo, clashes between police and protesters took place in 6th of October City, Mohandessin, Downtown, Mattariya, Old Cairo, Maadi, Alf-Maskan, and Nasr City. In 6th of October, at least ten pro-Morsi supporters were arrested. Downtown at the Journalists’ Syndicate, protesters chanting against the military and the Brotherhood were forcefully dispersed using tear gas, birdshots, while reports of armored vehicles driving through crowds have also emerged. Separately, the Way of the Revolution Front and Brotherhood supporters rallied in Mohandessin, in front of the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque. The protest was dispersed but protesters regrouped, meeting with those at the Journalists’ Syndicate. In Mattariya, 2,000 Brotherhood supporters attempted to stage a sit-in, leading to some of the worst clashes of the day, leaving at least twenty-six dead. The Students against the Coup also staged a protest in Old Cairo that led to anyone suspected of being associated with the group being arrested. Security forces responded forcefully to protesters chanting anti-military slogans and throwing stones in Nasr City. In Alexandria, several pro-Morsi protesters were arrested, with the ministry of interior saying they were in possession of Molotov cocktails and birdshot rifles. Clashes between security forces and pro-Morsi supporters also left one dead in Minya and several others injured. With the death toll continuing to climb, a statement from the forensics authority on Monday said that fifty-eight of the sixty-four deaths were caused by gunshot wounds.

Militant Violence in Suez and Sinai

Despite measures in place to secure the January 25 anniversary, several militant attacks in Sinai and Suez added to the day’s violence.   On Saturday, a military helicopter was shot down in North Sinai, killing all five crew members onboard, signaling a shift in the modus operandi of attacks on military personnel. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an al-Qaeda inspired group, claimed responsibility for the incident, having also claimed responsibility for a spate of bombings in Cairo on Friday. In a statement, the group reported that it used a missile fired from Sheikh Zuweid to shoot down the helicopter. In Suez, seventeen were injured when a car bomb detonated outside a Central Security Force base. The perpetrators behind this attack are still unknown. The attorney general of prosecutions in Suez has ordered an expedited investigation into Saturday’s events.

Widespread Arrests of Protesters

The Interior Ministry reported that a total of 1,079 ‘rioters’ were arrested across the country Saturday, adding in its official statement that the arrests prevented Brotherhood ‘terrorist plots’ from disrupting the January 25 celebrations. Among the many charges facing those arrested were in possession of Molotov cocktails, firing bird shots and chanting anti-military slogans. The Dokki prosecution has detained sixty Muslim Brotherhood supporters for fifteen days, pending investigation, for allegedly killing three people in Saturday’s protests. Their charges include murder, attempted murder and belonging to a terrorist organization. An additional fifty-two pro-Brotherhood supporters were detained for fifteen days pending investigation for staging riots at the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque. Eleven Brotherhood supporters were arrested in the Haram district of Giza for carrying Molotov cocktails and fireworks during Saturday’s protests. In Suez, twenty-six Brotherhood supporters were detained for fifteen days for allegedly carrying weapons and attacking security forces. Seventy-three Brotherhood supporters were arrested in Alexandria for carrying firearms and weapons.

Among the anti-military protesters arrested, sixteen were detained in the Maadi protests, among them prominent activist Nazly Hussein. Hussein, along with eight others, have since been released on EGP 2,000 bail each, while another sixteen remain in custody, detained for another fifteen days. They are accused of belonging to a terrorist organization.

Attacks on Journalists

Journalists against Torture and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression monitored the day’s progress, documenting thirty-eight violations against journalists. These violations prevented journalists from reporting accurately the police violations that took place on January 25. They added that these arrests “represent an explicit clampdown on the rights and freedoms that the state is committed to protect by virtue of the constitution.” These also violated international treaties that Egypt has signed. According to the Journalists’ Syndicate, at least seven journalists were arrested on Saturday, but have since been released.

Attacks on journalists also came from the celebrating crowds, with reports of journalists accused of belonging to Al-Jazeera emerging. Journalists Nadine al-Marroushi and Basil al-Dabh were attacked by a mob, with police intervening to usher them away from the angry crowds.

Political groups, non-governmental groups and international community respond to violence

Since Saturday’s protests and crackdowns, several groups have spoken out calling for increased protests while others have condemned the use of violence against protesters. The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy has called for an escalation of protests. The Way of the Revolution Front called for its members to withdraw from Saturday’s protests due to violence and clashes with security forces. They denounced the use of violence, calling it a crime.

The Popular Current, on the other hand, said it would not participate in the January 25 protests at all, because the revolution had been hijacked by two groups, one group choosing to celebrate, while the other attempts to divide Egypt.

Meanwhile, nine Egyptian NGOs, among them the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, released a statement denouncing the use of violence against protesters Saturday. They pointed to the fact that violence mainly targeted at protesters who opposed the current government or the military, and held the interior ministry responsible for the bloodshed. Conversely, the same forces protected protesters supporting the government. The Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights also denounced the arrest of twenty-three children in Cairo and Giza.

France, in a statement on the ministry of foreign affairs’ website, condemned Saturday’s violence. France’s ministry of foreign affairs calls on Egypt’s interim government to respect peaceful demonstrations. The ministry added that it hopes Egypt will establish democratic and civilian institutions that will protect individual freedoms. Ignoring the violence against protesters, China denounced Friday and Saturday’s incidents of terrorist violence and praised Egypt’s recent roadmap announcement regarding presidential elections.

Sarah Saleeb is the EgyptSource intern at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. She received her BA from the University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs and Middle East Studies. Previously, she was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute.

Image: Photo: Josh Levinger