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Egyptian military cracks down on activists

By: 
John Bell

March 19, 2012

Free trade union activist and general coordinator of the Center for Trade Unions and Worker’s Services, Kamal Abbas, has been sentenced to six months in prison for the crime of “insulting a public officer”. Abbas is just one of many prominent leaders of the Egyptian revolution facing attack from the military leadership that has replaced the ousted government of Hosni Mubarak.

“This is the attack of counter-revolutionary forces against activists, whether labor activists or political activists, and a continuation of the practices of the ousted regime,” Abbas told Daily News Egypt early in March.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has tried to stop the organizing of independent unions, and decreed strikes illegal.

Abbas is not alone. Dozens of labour activists and organizers have been arrested or assaulted for demanding free trade union rights. Previously SCAF has wavered, imposing massive fines on activists and then revoking them in the face of rising popular anger.

The regime is testing the waters by cracking down on some of the revolution’s best-known leaders. Asmaa Mahfouz is the young woman whose stirring video blog, posted one week before the outbreak of street protests, made her a spark of the revolution. One of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, Mahfouz traveled to New York in October to address the Occupy Wall Street protesters, solidifying the connections between people struggling for economic and social justice worldwide.

She has now been sentenced by a military court to one year in jail for assaulting a man she insists she has never even met. The same man had previously brought the same charges against two other political activists, Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Abou-Doma.

Mahfouz has refused to comply with the judgment and continues to speak out for human rights and against SCAF.

Mahfouz is one of a dozen prominent revolutionary leaders and spokespeople to be targeted by SCAF’s show trials. Also facing charges are: Sameh Naguib, a leading activist in the Revolutionary Socialists; Wael Ghonim, founder of the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page; blogger Nawara Negm and journalists Yosri Fouda and Reem Magid.

Alaa al-Aswany, author of the novel The Yacoubian Building, is also on the list, as are prospective presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel and MPs Ziad el-Eleimy and Abul-Ezz al-Hariry.

Mamdouh Hamza and George Ishak, activists who played a key role in mobilizing protests against dictator Hosni Mubarak before the revolution, could face trial too.

Haitham Muhammadain, a leading activist in the Revolutionary Socialists, told Socialist Worker that these latest developments form part of a wider attack on the revolutionary movement.

“They have run a smear campaign against the April 6 Youth Movement and organized the massacre in Port Said.

“A large number of young activists have been sentenced by military courts.”

The Egyptian revolution is at a dangerous place. International solidarity with these prominent activists can play a crucial role in what happens next.

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