Egypt arrests activists; unity waning

Egypt arrests activists; unity waning

CAIRO: Mohamed ElBaradei’s popularity and support seem to be teetering toward oblivion in Egypt, after months of calls for change. Yet, the threat his National Assembly for Change to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) continues to see government security forces do their best to silence any critics.

Over the weekend, four activists who openly supported ElBaradei’s calls for democracy and change were arrested in Assiut in southern Egypt. They were arrested on charges of “communicating with citizens and inviting them to sign the petition for demands of reform,” the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported.

Those arrested are Mamdouh Makram, Khaled Adham, Mahmoud AlHusseini and Ahmed Ali. ANHRI has called for their immediate release.

The arrest also coincides with the investigation into prominent journalist and writer Hamdi Khalil over alleged insults and libel in his writing. The foriegn ministry and the ruling party is also accusing him of sedition.

Despite the quiet that ElBaradei’s supporters have been witnessing in recent weeks, the affects that their initial push – which saw thousands come out in support of the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief – has left the ruling government worried over the possible outcome of upcoming elections.

With Shura Council, or the Upper House of Parliament, due to have elections this summer, many see the possible democratic vote as a litmus test for the more important Lower House of Parliament, or People’s Assembly, later this fall.

“It is important to see how it runs in terms of transparency and ability to vote,” said one American democracy advocate in a recent Cairo visit.

But with the coalition for change breaking and little cohesion remaining from the February unity that welcomed ElBaradei back into the country, worries are that the government will continue to have the upper hand.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” said Mohamed Adham, a 29-year-old pro-democracy activist and member of the Kefaya movement for change. He argued that the opposition community must “overcome the differences in strategy and opinion in order to return to the unity that scared the government.”

He argued that the movement needs to go to the streets instead of remaining behind a computer screen. This, he added, “was what was keeping the opposition community outside the realm of reality because they don’t talk to real people.”

This is the crux of the matter, said Ukranian activist Mikhael Lochitz, who participated and helped run a number of websites during that country’s push for change a few years back. He said that until a country can bridge the gap between the Internet and real “on-the-ground activism, it all remains a good idea. People have to be willing to sacrifice for a better country. This happened in Ukraine because people were so distraught. Maybe it can happen in Egypt.”

The problem, a number of activists and observers believe, is that the opposition community has no overarching strategy that can compete with the centralized forces of the government.

“How do these four people fall into the overall scheme of the opposition? Will their be mass demonstrations to demand their release? If not, there will not be success for the opposition,” Lochitz added. He argued that until people demand change in large numbers, government’s do not buckle.

For ElBaradei, the hope for change created by a man “off-limits” to government arrest, his influence appears to be waning, but Lochitz and others here in Egypt believe that all it takes is organization to create the change demanded and wanted by millions of Egyptians.

“We don’t really understand how to take our country back,” began Amr Mohassen, a 31-year-old taxi driver in Ras Sidr some 180 miles east of Cairo. He argued that people are ready for change, “but it has to have a real plan of action to keep people on the ready. If not, we don’t see any good future for our country.”                                                                                                                                                       Republished With Permission FromBikya Masr