CAIRO - Egypt's army-installed authorities threatened decisive action Friday against anyone defying a new ban on authorised gatherings on the traditional day of protest, hammering home its message by arresting a leading activist.
CAIRO – Egypt’s army-installed authorities threatened decisive action Friday against anyone defying a new ban on authorised gatherings on the traditional day of protest, hammering home its message by arresting a leading activist.
The Muslim Brotherhood vowed to go ahead regardless with the weekly protests it has organised after noon prayers ever since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a July 3 military coup.
The warning, issued by the interior ministry late Thursday, came as police detained prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah in a stark declaration of intent reminiscent of the autocratic rule of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, ousted in a popular uprising nearly three years ago.
The ministry “warns all citizens against organising any activities, assemblies, marches or demonstrations that break the law without obtaining prior permission from security forces”, the statement said.
“The ministry will deal with these illegal activities firmly and decisively.”
Interim president Adly Mansour issued the demonstration ban last Sunday and police have since enforced it, sometimes bloodily.
On Thursday, an engineering student was killed during an Islamist demonstration at Cairo university, health officials said.
To the anger of secular supporters of Morsi’s overthrow, police have taken action against all demonstrations, not just those organised by the ousted president’s Islamist backers.
Activists say the ban is hypocritical as the army justified its coup as a response to mass demonstrations across the country against Morsi’s turbulent single year in power.
Pro-democracy groups have been particularly incensed by the arrest of Abdel Fatah late on Thursday.
He was detained at his home in a western district of Cairo, said his wife, Manal Hassan, who tweeted that she had been “beaten” during his arrest.
Prosecutors had issued warrants on Wednesday for the arrest of Abdel Fatah and fellow activist Ahmed Maher, on charges of participating in an unauthorised demonstration on Tuesday in defiance of the new ban.
Both men were prominent opponents of Morsi when he was in power.
“Deja vu, I’m about to hand myself in to the authorities again on Saturday,” Abdel Fattah wrote on Facebook in response to the arrest warrant.
Abdel Fattah was detained under Mubarak, under the military junta that ousted him, and again under Morsi.
Analysts say the mounting disillusion of veteran activists such as Abdel Fattah may strain the unlikely coalition of security hawks and liberal democrats installed by the military after the coup.
They say it could provoke the very unrest it was supposed to quell.
“Rather than consolidate the transition, it weakens it. It alienates even supporters of the government,” said Issandr El Amrani, North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.
“For the past three years, police brutality has been the cause of much of the political turmoil. You keep going through a cycle.”
The new law requires organisers of demonstrations to give written notice three days in advance, severely curtailing the right to free assembly asserted by the millions of protesters who took to the streets to overthrow Mubarak in the Arab Spring.
The law also stipulates that security forces must give participants in unauthorised demonstrations verbal warning to disperse before resorting to water cannon, tear gas and as a last resort, birdshot, to make them do so.