Tight security, little of sign protest on fifth anniversary of Egypt uprising

Friday 22/01/2016
Many challenges lay ahead

CAIRO - Egyptians on Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak amid tight security and a warning from the new regime that demonstrations will not be tolerated.

Dozens of masked policemen deployed in several Cairo squares including near Tahrir Square -- the epicentre of the 18-day anti-Mubarak revolt -- to prevent potential protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government.

Egyptian Special Forces toting machineguns patrolled several Cairo districts, with police armoured vehicles on the streets.

They also boosted security around police stations which were targeted by protesters during the 2011 uprising and which have also been attacked by militants in a growing jihadist insurgency.

A long-running security crackdown intensified in the build-up to the anniversary, with police rounding up dozens of activists and raiding hundreds of homes.

Activist hangouts including cafes, cultural centres and a publishing house near Tahrir Square were raided or shut down.

Critics have accused Sisi of restoring Mubarak's autocratic rule and betraying the hopes of those who took to the streets five years ago.

"Egyptians have been made to watch as their country reverts back to a police state," Said Boumedouha, rights group Amnesty International's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

"Tens of thousands have been arrested and the country's prisons are now overflowing, with widespread reports of torture and hundreds held without charge or trial."

January 25 was declared "Revolution Day" a year after the revolt in 2012, but there were no official plans to mark Monday's anniversary.

The uprising that overthrew Mubarak's 30-year-old regime is no longer celebrated after Sisi, then the army chief, overthrew Mubarak's successor Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

Sisi ousted Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader, after widespread protests against the Islamist's divisive first year of rule.

Since Sisi installed the new regime, authorities have banned all but police-approved rallies and overseen a crackdown that has left hundreds of Morsi supporters dead and thousands imprisoned.

Several secular and leftist activists who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak uprising have also been jailed.

Morsi's blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement was the only group to have called for protests on Monday, and a few of its supporters tried to demonstrate in Cairo's Al-Haram district near the pyramids, but quickly dispersed fearing police retaliation.

"The January revolution still exists in all squares of Egypt and will fade only after achieving all of its goals and defeating the military coup (against Morsi)," a Brotherhood statement said on Sunday.

In a speech last month, Sisi warned against any demonstration marking the anniversary.

"I am hearing calls to stage a new revolution. Why? ... I came to power with your will and choice, not against your will," he said.

Sisi, who does not belong to any political party, won a presidential election in 2014 riding a wave of popularity after ousting Morsi.

A new parliament was inaugurated earlier this month but it is dominated by pro-Sisi lawmakers and is unlikely to pose any challenge to his rule.

"It's now clear that the counter-revolution has triumphed," said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

"The revolution has been confiscated and buried."

Many Egyptians tired of years of political unrest and instability support Sisi, saying there are no alternatives and that some level of stability has been achieved by his regime.

"The demands of protesters that led to the January 25 revolution still exist. The only reason Egyptians have sacrificed them since then is a hope that the country will achieve stability," said Hazem Hosni, professor of political science at Cairo university.

Sisi still faces serious challenges, including reviving a sluggish economy as investments and tourist revenues fall, and a deadly insurgency led by the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed in militant attacks since Morsi's ouster and security forces have so far been unable to quell the insurgency.