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Egyptian Authorities Extend Detainment of Prominent Activist and Blogger

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, December 2 2013

Alaa Abd El Fattah speaking at the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum

On the night of November 28, well-known Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested by Egyptian security forces for his involvement in a demonstration against a new law meant to repress political protests. Fattah and fellow activist Ahmad Maher were arrested for allegedly organizing the demonstration without the requisite three day advance notice to the Interior Ministry, a stipulation of the new law they were protesting. On December 1, a prosecutor ordered the release of Ahmed Maher, but renewed Alaa Abd El Fattah's detention for 15 days.

According to Human Rights Watch staff who witnessed the demonstration on November 26, the 200 or so protesters were entirely peaceful, chanting slogans in front of the Shura Council. The demonstration ended when police used water cannons, tear gas and batons to violently disperse the protest. At least 72 participants were arrested. According to analysis by the Human Rights Watch, “The fact that police officials allowed the media to film its violent dispersal and beating of some of the women protesters as they were being arrested on November 26 shows they believe the law legitimates the crackdown on protests.”

The excess of violence continued with the nighttime arrest of Alaa Abd El Fattah, which took place in his own home around 10 p.m. on November 28. Although Fattah had publicly stated that he would surrender himself to the authorities on Sunday, security forces came to his home on Thursday anyway. His wife and fellow blogger Manal reported on Twitter that the arresting officers beat her and her husband, and confiscated their laptops and cell phones.

In 2006, under the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, Fattah was arrested and detained for participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of the free judiciary movement. He was again detained in 2011 for allegedly “inciting violence and sabotage” related to a protest on October 9 of that year.

He wrote about that experience from his cell in Cairo, in a piece published in English in The Guardian:

I never expected to repeat the experience of five years ago: after a revolution that deposed the tyrant, I go back to his jails?

The memories come back to me, all the details of imprisonment; the skills of sleeping on the floor, nine men in a six-by-12-foot (two-by-four-metre) cell, the songs of prison, the conversations. But I absolutely can't remember how I used to keep my glasses safe while I slept.

They have been stepped on three times already today. I suddenly realise they're the same glasses that were with me in my last imprisonment; the one for supporting the Egyptian judiciary in 2006. And that I am locked up, again pending trial, again on a set of loose and flimsy charges – the one difference is that instead of the state security prosecutor we have the military prosecutor – a change in keeping with the military moment we're living now.

Alaa Abd El Fattah spoke at the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum. His talk was titled “Weaving a Network for Change: Egypt.

"Technology offered a perfect medium to build a narrative about revolution," he said in 2011, months before his second police detainment.

He also indirectly acknowledged technology's limits, rhetorically asking what the most important technology in the Tahrir Square protests had been. Not Facebook or Twitter, but “Rocks and clubs.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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