Heavy security measures pre-empt protests on revolution anniversary

Most of the calls for protests this year were ignored, except for very limited and brief demonstrations.
Sunday 26/01/2020
A police vehicle patrols near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (Reuters)
Tense mood. A police vehicle patrols near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Authorities intensified security across Egypt ahead of the anniversary of the revolution in 2011 that ousted long-standing President Hosni Mubarak. Measures included deploying thousands of police officers and army troops amid concerns about terrorist attacks or protests on the revolution anniversary, January 25.

Armoured vehicles were seen in most Egyptian cities and police and army troops were posted at important institutions, including ministries, mosques, churches, the banks and media offices.

Secret police officers were conspicuously present, gazing at passers-by and sometimes stopping people, questioning and searching them and their cell phones. Those with political messages, e-mails or photos on their phones risked possible arrest.

News sites published warnings to young men against untraditional haircuts or torn jeans. They also gave tips on how to respond to police asking to search their phones.

“These measures were important to deter those planning lawbreaking on the revolution anniversary,” said security expert Gamal Mazloum.

The extraordinary security measures came after calls for protests on the revolution anniversary by the Egyptian opposition in exile, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Hosts on Muslim Brotherhood channels broadcast from Turkey called on the public to protest against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

There were social media campaigns encouraging people to express anger at the lack of political freedoms and increasing food prices.

The January 25, 2011, revolution deposed Mubarak, who had been in office for 30 years and planned a dynasty by grooming his son to succeed him. The revolution revived Egyptians’ hopes that a better future could be achieved, politically and economically.

However, it opened the door to unprecedented economic problems. A deterioration of security conditions led to the flight of foreign investment and the near total freeze of the tourism sector, worsening Egyptians’ living conditions.

The revolution allowed Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, to rise politically. The Brotherhood won a majority of seats in parliament and its candidate, Muhammad Morsi, became president.

However, political and economic mismanagement gave rise to another revolutionary wave in mid-2013.

That action was backed by the Egyptian Army, which offered protection to anti-Brotherhood demonstrators. The army asked Morsi to either initiate reforms or call snap presidential elections. Morsi turned down both demands, leading to his arrest and removal from power.

Since then, the Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoys support from Qatar and Turkey, both regional ideological adversaries of Egypt, has tried to return to power, including by waging a media war against Sisi.

Most of the calls for protests this year were ignored, except for very limited and brief demonstrations.

“There is the belief among most people that their country is on the right track, despite the presence of some problems,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Ordinary people know that those calling for the protests only want to cause harm to their country.”

Some Egyptians complain about the high prices of food and services. The rise in prices was caused by the 2016 liberalisation of the Egyptian pound against foreign currencies and the Egyptian government’s economic reforms, which included reduction of water, electricity and fuel subsidies.

Last September, the Muslim Brotherhood supported calls for protests by a construction contractor who had worked for the Egyptian Army for years and accused it and Sisi of corruption.

Mohamed Ali, who escaped to Europe before speaking out against Sisi and the military, claimed that Sisi squandered public funds on luxury villas and palaces. His calls engendered limited protests in Cairo and other cities.

Ali teamed with the Muslim Brotherhood before the revolution anniversary this year. He claimed that January 25 would be Sisi’s last day in power. Come January 25, there was little on the streets but the police.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has already lost its following in Egypt,” said Ibrahim Rabie, a former long-time member of the Islamist group. “This coincided with its loss of influence on the public, especially after it showed its violent face on multiple occasions in the past years.”