The novelist Ahdaf Soueif condemns the “war against the youth” as Egyptian activists stand on trial Egypt
One of Egypt’s leading writers, Ahdaf Soueif, has accused Egypt’s military-backed authorities of “waging war on the youth” on the opening day of an accelerated trial of 24 human rights activists in Cairo.
“They are trying to push people back into the spirit that the Mubarak regime created to make young people feel that they cannot change anything,” said Soueif.
“This is about telling young people that they have to stay out of it, that their protests won’t work. But you don’t take young people in that way – it’s their future and they have to shape it.”
The youth activists who brought charges against former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 were among the main victims of crackdown following the overthrow of his successor Mohamed Morsi in July last year.
According to the Interior Ministry, at least 16,000 people have been arrested since the fall of Morsi. Independent rights groups bring the number closer to 36,000.
The leadership of the once celebrated April 6th youth movement is largely behind bars. The revolutionary talisman Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly organizing a protest – an act prohibited under a law enacted last November that served to imprison several revolutionary leaders.
His sister and Soueif’s niece, 20-year-old Sanaa Seif, was tried among 24 people on Sunday in Cairo. She was charged with illegally protesting, possessing fireworks, damaging public property and “using violence to terrorize citizens”. .
The group was arrested on June 21 when hundreds demonstrated against a law that criminalizes unauthorized protests. Although most attended the event, one defendant – award-winning human rights attorney Yara Sallam – was reportedly arrested while buying refreshments at a nearby kiosk.
Judge Ahmed Rashwan, who was present in the courthouse of the Torah Prison Police Academy, left without informing the lawyers of his decision. A prison guard later said the court was adjourned to September 16.
Human rights groups and lawyers have accused the Egyptian judiciary of sealing the crackdown on youth activists in the country with a flood of draconian prison terms.
“With every bogus trial, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egyptian judges are in step with President Sisi in liberating Egypt from the opposition,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.
“The arrogance and feeling of being above the law shown in the courtroom are becoming all too common in Egypt today, where there is no accountability for wrongdoing.”
On Saturday, Egyptian social media was flooded with images of prominent youth activist Mahienour al-Massry in a courtroom cage in Alexandria. As the judge pondered an appeal against a two-year prison sentence she was serving for organizing an illegal protest, a beam of light illuminated her small, white-clad form.
The recent criminalization of street demonstrations, traditionally reserved for youth activists, has had a significant impact on the ability and willingness of opposition groups to mobilize.
Small pro-Morsi protests continue on Friday afternoons, but the police usually stop them. Revolutionary groups also hold occasional protests, but their numbers are severely exhausted.
“Wake up! Whether we protest on the street or stay home, it’s all a disaster,” Sana Seif tweeted last month. “We are in danger and I would rather be forced to resist than be defeated and stay home.”
Egypt is tightening its control over social media by acquiring new software that allows for extensive surveillance of communications among young people and even endangers opposition supporters who stay at home. “It is actually the young people who don’t protest, but sit at home and share and like status, who are most at risk from this type of surveillance,” said Eva Blum-Dumontet, advocacy officer at Privacy International.
“They are not leaders and may not have been on the authorities’ radar before, but that way they are exposed.”
The Egyptian political class has often been accused of being out of touch with the needs of the country’s bulging youth population, who bear much of the brunt of the country’s economic and social problems. Every year more than 800,000 young Egyptians join the labor market – which already has an unemployment rate of 13.4%.
Much of the cabinet and the military are over 60 years old. At 59, President Sisi was the youngest member of the military council that ruled Egypt immediately after the fall of the Mubarak.
“The regime must recognize that there is no turning back for many young people,” said Rasha Abdalla, associate professor at the American University in Cairo.
“You watched your friends get shot in front of your eyes, knowing they might as well have been … Nobody is immune.” A number of Abdalla’s own students were arrested after participating in demonstrations.