Ahmed Maher, Egyptian political activist and founder of the April 6 movement, speaks in Cairo on October 2, 2011
Ahmed Maher, Egyptian political activist and founder of the April 6 movement, speaks in Cairo on October 2, 2011 © Khaled Desouki - AFP/File
Ahmed Maher, Egyptian political activist and founder of the April 6 movement, speaks in Cairo on October 2, 2011
Jay Deshmukh, AFP
Last updated: November 27, 2013

Egypt widens crackdown as two top activists ordered arrested

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Egyptian authorities Wednesday jailed 14 women said to be Muslim Brotherhood members for 11 years, and ordered the arrest of two leading activists for demonstrating against a disputed protest law.

A court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria sentenced the 14 women who it said were from the Brotherhood after convicting them of belonging to a "terrorist organisation," judicial sources said.

It also sentenced six men, said to be Brotherhood leaders, to 15 years, the sources said, adding the convicted women were immediately transferred to prison.

The men, tried in absentia, were found guilty of inciting the women to block key roads in the city during clashes between supporters and opponents of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on October 31.

Seven girls in the same group on trial were sent to a juvenile detention centre until they reach the age of 18, state media said.

Their sentencing is the latest in an ongoing government crackdown against Morsi's supporters since the army toppled him on July 3.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in the crackdown and during clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi groups, while thousands have been arrested, mostly Islamists, in the often deadly crackdown.

On Tuesday, the authorities appeared to widen their campaign when police crushed protests by secular and pro-democracy groups against a law passed at the weekend regulating demonstrations.

The law requires protest organisers to give at least three days' written notice before holding demonstrations.

Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse Tuesday's demonstrations.

The suppression of mainly secular youths is seen as the opening of a new front by the authorities, which justified Morsi's ouster by saying it was responding to massive demonstrations against his rule.

Tuesday's clampdown triggered a stand-off between authorities and some prominent activists who led the revolt against long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Tempers flared Wednesday when the general prosecutor ordered the arrest of Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 movement that spearheaded the 2011 revolt against Mubarak, and Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist.

"The two are accused of inciting protesters to hold demonstrations that broke the protest law," the prosecution said, according to state news agency MENA.

The report added that 24 other protesters who joined the demonstration had been ordered detained for four days.

Judiciary and other sources said about 60 protesters were detained, including prominent activist Mona Seif, founder of a campaign against military trials of civilians.

She was held after joining a protest on Tuesday outside the Shura Council, where Egypt's new constitution is being drafted.

Seif and a group of 15 other women and 12 men were later released in the middle of the night on a desert road some 10 kilometres (about six miles) south of Cairo.

"The ministry of interior alleges that each one of us had been dropped at her house, which means that all of us are living in the desert," Seif wrote on Twitter.

The interior ministry later approved a demonstration against the protest law in downtown Cairo's Talat al-Harb Square which hundreds of people attended Wednesday.

'New opponents within own camp'

Analysts were puzzled by the law, especially since the revised constitution would guarantee freedom of expression.

"By passing such a law the government is creating opponents within its own camp," said Hassan Nafea, political professor at Cairo University.

"It is alienating true young revolutionary groups such as Maher's April 6 movement and others who led the January 2011 revolution."

Nafea said it was unlikely the new law signalled the emergence of a police state but said: "There is a lack of cohesion and cooperation... and there is political immaturity among officials."

Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Egyptians were increasingly "objecting to the ascendancy of the military and the re-emergence of the secret police.

"Egyptians won't be patient for long with a state that failed to deliver services, abused human rights, and monopolised economic benefits."

Egypt's cabinet, however, vowed to press on with its enforcement of the law.

"The cabinet will support the police in implementing the law with full force and determination. It respects the freedom of expression but as long as it does not turn into chaos," it said.

Under the law, security forces must first verbally warn protesters at prohibited demonstrations to disperse before using water cannon or tear gas, and should only gradually escalate to the firing of birdshot if other means fail.

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