The January 25 Anniversary: A Well-Rehearsed Script

Over the past four years, the anniversary of the January 25 revolution has not been a welcomed occasion—whether under SCAF, former president Mohamed Morsi, former interim president Adly Mansour, or President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Activists who took part in the 18-day revolution against Mubarak, and continue to defend it as one of the most significant events in the country’s modern history, say that marking the anniversary has become more difficult with each passing year, amid dire warnings by security agencies that no protests should be held in the streets. 

Worse, opponents of the revolution now seem to have the upper hand, with tight control over the media, especially private television channels that constantly repeat the same claims made by Mubarak’s supporters. They have dubbed the January 25 Revolution a “foreign plot” aimed at dividing Egypt and the Arab world, and handing power to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Four Years of Anniversaries 

On December 22, 2011, in the weeks leading up to the first anniversary of the popular revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak, state daily Al-Ahram carried a headline on its front page exclaiming that a plot to sabotage the January 25 anniversary had been foiled. Private daily, Al-Shorouk carried the same story circulated by state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), stating that “sovereign agencies” had uncovered a plot coinciding with the anniversary, meant to topple the state. The vague term ‘sovereign agencies’ was long used in Egypt as a reference to either the president, or the Mukhabarat (General Intelligence Authority).

Those highly-placed security sources were quoted by MENA four years ago as saying, “Contacts monitored by security agencies revealed coordination between local elements, and foreign outside parties to carry out a planned scenario on January 25, triggering a new revolution whose only aim is to get into bloody clashes with the armed forces.”  The aim of the foiled plot, according to the same security sources, was “to spark a civil war between the population and the armed forces, as an introduction to issue international resolutions ordering the deployment of foreign troops” in Egypt. 
Despite the fearmongering headlines, no clashes took place between members of the armed forces and the thousands of peaceful demonstrators who marked the first anniversary of the revolution. There was no sabotage, and no foreign forces were deployed in Egypt. 

In early 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was gradually rising to power, did not welcome street protests. It said the task of fulfilling the demands of the revolution was in the hands of the newly elected parliament, in which it scored a sweeping victory.
By the time of the second anniversary, Morsi was in office and there were hardly any celebrations in the streets. Instead, tear gas filled the air as opponents of the Brotherhood clashed with police as they protested his policies, chief among them the unilateral release of a Constitutional Declaration on November 22, 2012 giving him absolute powers. 

Six months before the third anniversary of the revolution, widespread popular protests against the Brotherhood on June 30, 2013 led to the army’s intervention to remove Morsi four days later. With the increasing threat of terrorism that followed Morsi’s ouster, whether in Cairo, or in Sinai, banning any sort of street protest became a top priority for security agencies. Minister of Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa issued an edict describing protests as a religious taboo. The legislation soon followed with a Protest Law approved in late 2013, imposing harsh penalties of up to five year in prison for those who take part in protests unauthorized by the Interior Ministry.Those who insisted on their right to peaceful protest were charged, by supporters of the government, with “serving Brotherhood interests” and failing to appreciate the serious dangers confronting the country’s security.
On January 25, 2014, a brief gathering by a few hundred protesters marking the third anniversary of the revolution in front of the Press Syndicate was dispersed by riot police. A young member of the April 6 Movement, Sayed Abdullah, was shot dead. His family and friends allege that Sayed Weza, as he was known, was killed by riot police. There were no reporters close in the vicinity when Abdullah was shot dead, and no police officers have been charged with his killing. Over 200 protesters charged in a mass trial are accused by the state of killing him. 

This was not the case a year later when Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a 30-year-old mother, was shot dead by a riot officer in Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo. Many reporters were present to cover a small gathering in which Sabbagh was taking part with members of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, marking the anniversary of the revolution by placing flowers in Tahrir Square. They staged the march a day in advance of the anniversary, on January 24, 2015, mainly to avoid charges that they were collaborating with Brotherhood protesters who had announced they planned demonstrations on that same day. An officer was sentenced to 15 years for unlawfully killing Sabbagh, and the case has since been referred to the Court of Appeals.

The Fifth Anniversary 
As the fifth anniversary approaches, the Brotherhood is again calling for demonstrations across Egypt. Official spokesman Mohamed Montasser issued a statement describing the coming demonstrations as a “nail in the coffin of the coup.” Similar statements by the Brotherhood in the past two years, however, have led to no action on the ground. Chances that widespread protests could take place next week are even lower, considering the very public divisions within the Brotherhood over strategy and who should lead the group.
Nevertheless, security agencies, that have historically never welcomed street protests and have always seen them as a possible trigger for wider chaos and, possibly, a new revolution, are unlikely to change their attitude. Interior Ministry officials were quoted as saying that plans were already in place to deter any possible protests on January 25. Police stations across the country have received reinforcements—in the form of weapons and troops—in what appears to be precautions against the same scenario that took place five years ago when police stations were attacked and torched by angry protesters.
In addition to continuing to arrest alleged Brotherhood members who are facing accusations of incitement, security forces have also ramped up arrests of April 6 Youth members, and other young figures, who they accuse of planning protests on the fifth anniversary of the revolution. Among the latest detainees is activist Taher Mokhtar, who is also a member of the doctor’s syndicate. Mokhtar, together with two friends, were charged with possession of anti-state leaflets calling for overthrowing the regime. Police have also raided, and in some cases shuttered, several cultural institutions—including the Townhouse Gallery, Rawabet Theatre, and Merit Publishing—all known hangouts for revolutionary activists. 

At least a dozen other young men have been arrested over the past two weeks and charged with joining an illegal organization—the January 25 Youth Movement. While youth activists deny that such a movement exists, many find it ironic that association with the January 25 revolution, once celebrated in Egypt and across the world, has now become an accusation. 

Doaa Mustafa, a lawyer for Sherif Diab, one of the activists recently arrested, told EgyptSource she found it “very sad” that five years after the revolution, “it is now considered a charge to defend the January 25 Revolution.” She also said Diab was badly beaten upon arrest and was deprived of winter clothes and food for at least two days.

The Minister of Endowments only made things worse by again issuing his edict that demonstrating in the streets was “against religion” because it causes harm to the interests of the public. Presenters of popular talk shows have also spared no effort in attacking any attempt to mark the revolution’s fifth anniversary. Azmy Megahed, a presenter on the privately owned channel Al-Assema, said, “The people in the street will beat you up with their shoes before you are confronted by the police,” while television host Ahmed Moussa said protesters on January 25 will end up either in jail or dead. 

A young activist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of arrest, told EgyptSource, “We are all laughing at this hysteria. We don’t need to protest on January 25. We will let this day go, and chose any other date. It doesn’t have to be January 25, or February 11,” the day Mubarak announced his resignation from his long held post five years ago. “History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself in the same way,” he said.

Khaled Dawoud is currently Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly, an English-language weekly published by Egypt’s oldest news establishment, Al-Ahram. He is also the former official spokesman of social-liberal Al-Dostour Party established by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abd El-Fatah