Egypt's crackdown on dissent continues as bombing injures 5 policemen

November 20, 2014

In Blog News

Egypt’s crackdown on dissent continues as bombing injures 5 policemen

Egyptians walk past graffiti marking the third anniversary of the 2011 protests against the military which ignited deadly clashes with security forces, on a wall in Mohamed Mahmoud street in Cairo on November 19, 2014. AFP / Mohammed al-Shahed

Published Thursday, November 20, 2014

Five policemen were wounded in a bombing near a Cairo university on Thursday, Egyptian security officials said, while an explosion at a train station left four people injured in a panicked stampede.

Earlier on Thursday, Egyptian authorities arrested a top Muslim Brotherhood leader, a day after they detained 25 protesters in downtown Cairo as well as an Egyptian jihadist who had just returned from Syria.

Security officials said Thursday that five policemen, including two officers, were wounded when a bomb targeted a small police outpost near Helwan university in southern Cairo.

Egypt is fighting an Islamist militant insurgency that has killed scores of policemen and soldiers, mostly in the unrest-roiled Sinai Peninsula.

But militant groups have also staged attacks in other parts of the country, including in Cairo.

Four people were injured in a “stampede” at the Ramses train station after a “sound bomb” went off inside a compartment of a train on Thursday, security officials said, adding that the train was coming in from the Nile Delta where three empty state transport buses were also set on fire in separate incidents.

In a similar incident last week, 16 people were injured in panic sparked by an explosion at a Cairo metro train station, days after a bomb on a train north of the capital killed two policemen and two passengers.

Egypt has been hit by a wave of bombings and shootings since the military ousted then-President Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, as the authorities continue to violently crack down on all opposition movements ever since.

Authorities arrest top Brotherhood leader, prominent activist and 28 others

In the latest sign of a crackdown on political dissent, Egyptian police on Thursday arrested Mohammed Ali Bishr, one of the few Muslim Brotherhood leaders to escape jail after last year’s overthrow of Mursi.

Bishr, a veteran politician who served as a cabinet minister under Mursi, was accused of calling for mass protests on November 28, state media said.

With much of the leadership, including Mursi, in jail, Bishr had played a key role in keeping the group’s activities alive underground.

He was also involved in a pro-Mursi pressure group, the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup, which was banned last month.

The group condemned Bishr’s arrest on its Facebook page, slamming “the continuous rabid attacks against components of the coalition and its members… and against the sons and daughters of the student protest movement.”

The outlawed Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Brotherhood, also condemned the arrest and said Bishr had already served seven years in jail from 1999-2002 and from 2006-2010.

After Mursi’s ouster, authorities banned the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement, and launched a heavy cracked down on its members, leaving at least 1,400 dead and 15,000 jailed, including hundreds sentenced to death.

Besides Islamists, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following a recent ban on unlicensed protests.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, four people, including leading activist Mahienour al-Masry, were arrested in Alexandria, according to the “Free Mahienour” Facebook page.

Masry was sentenced to two years in prison last year for protesting outside a court where two policemen accused of killing a man whose death in 2010 partly ignited the uprising against Mubarak were on trial.

The page said those detained were not protesting, but added no further details.

Also on Wednesday, police fired tear gas and arrested 25 people in central Cairo where hundreds had gathered to commemorate dozens of protesters killed by security forces in 2011, Egypt’s interior ministry told state news agency MENA.

The rally was a rare sign of defiance against strict protest laws imposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government that has further allowed military courts to try civilians.

The 25 arrested in the rally were marking the third anniversary of the killing of 42 people in the 2011 demonstrations against the military who seized power after the toppling autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

According to rights group Amnesty International, security forces often use provisions under the Protest Law to justify the excessive use of force to disperse protests, and arrest demonstrators.

The Protest law (107 of 2013) “allows the security forces to use firearms against peaceful protestors.”

Even though a security source said the 25 detainees would be released “soon”, they, under a new martial law passed last month, could be tried in military courts for blocking the road.

The new decree categorizes state institutions as military facilities and considers attacks against these facilities as a crime against the armed forces.

The Egyptian military already had the right to try civilians accused of attacking its personnel, but the new martial law broadens the army’s jurisdiction considerably.

The martial law is the latest move in a clampdown on dissent by a government that has jailed thousands of political opponents, curbed protests, and forced NGOs to register with the government, a move that forced some of the organizations to shut down to avoid abiding by the “repressive law.”

In early November, Egypt was brought in front of the UN’s top human rights body for a litany of rights abuses, including its crackdown, mass arrests and unfair trials targeting mainly Mursi supporters, journalists and activists.

Egyptian jihadist fighting with al-Nusra detained upon return from Syria

Egypt’s military does not differentiate between Muslim Brotherhood group, which maintains it is peaceful and has denied involvement in recent anti-state violence, and radical Islamist groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has recently vowed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

On Wednesday, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it arrested an Egyptian militant who recently returned to the country after fighting in Syria alongside a group linked to the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.

A statement posted to the ministry’s Facebook page said Hany Shaheen Ali Shaheen confessed to receiving orders from the Islamist Furqan Brigade to train Islamists, especially in Egypt’s Gharbia province, in bomb making,

Egypt’s state television broadcast a video purporting to show Shaheen’s confession.

“I traveled to Syria about a year ago,” said Shaheen. “I was trained to use Kalashnikovs and explosives with the Furqan Brigade…in Homs,” a central Syrian city.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm Shaheen’s connection to Nusra, which has fought against Syrian Army forces as well as rival militants from ISIS and has recently come under attack by US airstrikes.

The ministry also said it had uncovered five “terrorist cells” composed of 38 Islamists in Gharbia who it claimed were complicit in blocking roads and violence that had wounded 7 policemen and 14 civilians.

Egypt is well aware of the risks posed by its citizens going abroad for jihadist causes and then returning. Egyptians who fought Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s eventually came home, training their weapons on Egyptian security forces and carrying out bombings.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)