Egyptians defy government ban in second day of protests

Egyptians defy government ban in second day of anti-government protests. Tunisia issues arrest warrant for Ben Ali. UK government revises control orders. Palestinian Authority defiant following Al Jazeera release of leaked documents. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
26 January 2011

The Egyptian government flooded the streets of Cairo with riot police on Wednesday following a second day of anti-government protests over poverty, unemployment and repression.

Thousands of people defied a ban by the interior ministry against all public gatherings and assembled outside a court complex in Cairo where police drove riot vans into the crowd to disperse them. Hundreds of protestors also assembled in Alexandria and in Suez city, where plain clothed policemen detained dozens.

Wednesday's protests were smaller than expected. The authorities blocked access to social media websites including Twitter, impeding the ability of protestors to co-ordinate. Witnesses also attest to heavy-handed police tactics against protestors as well as journalists and photographers, some from Associated Press and the Guardian.

Approximately 700 people have been detained throughout Egypt, despite calls from Washington to lift the ban on demonstrations. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the authorities to allow peaceful protest, adding that the authorities had an important opportunity to implement political and socio-economic reforms.

Inspired by events in Tunisia, protestors in Egypt say they will continue to take to the streets until the government falls. Further protests are expected on Friday, after Muslim prayers.

The openSecurity verdict: Anti-government demonstrations in Egypt on Tuesday were the biggest since riots in 1977 over government subsidies. Significantly, the protestors are not a monolithic group but an alliance of disparate opposition forces. Central among them is the 6 April Youth Movement which called for a 'day of anger' on Tuesday, a national holiday, citing a list of demands including an end to the country's emergency laws, a rise in the minimum wage and the resignation of the interior minister.

The second significant oppositional actor is the Muslim Brotherhood, an active agent in Egypt's civil society, which endorsed protests on Tuesday. The Brotherhood maintain that they will continue to 'call for political reform and constitutional amendments' by recourse to peaceful means, but stopped short of calling on all its members to take to the streets. Unsurprisingly, the authorities have accused the Brotherhood of being behind the latest anti-government protests. As the largest and most organised political actor, the Brotherhood is no stranger to harassment. In its publication of the 21st annual World Report on human rights, Human Rights Watch accused the Egyptian government of suppressing political dissent and in particular, detaining journalists, bloggers and Muslim Brotherhood members in 2010.

Inspired by events in Tunisia, Egyptian protestors had been mobilising support online for the past week, with commitments from 80,000 people on a Facebook page to join protests. On Wednesday - a normal working day - however, the number of protestors dwindled. The question now is whether the protests will oust the incumbent Hosni Mubarak and whether the protests in Tunisia will have a domino effect across the Arab world.

So far, some commentators have drawn on differences between Tunisia and Egypt. These include the fact that political activism in Egypt is weak, that Mubarak has so far stood his ground and that protestors have not chanted against Mubarak's heir apparent - his son Gamal, attesting to a confrontation that is limited in its scope. More significantly, the upper echelons of society have much to lose should Mubarak fall. Those in the media, security services, civil service and business sectors all 'live off the regime and serve as its safety belt' and buffer against opposition forces.

Should these protests fail to oust Mubarak, it is clear that Gamal's succession later this year will be made difficult. Economic and political reforms will need to enlisted; the very same reforms that others in the region, including King Abdullah II of Jordan, are now emphasising to address popular grievances.

Tunisia issues arrest warrant for Ben Ali

Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for its exiled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, according to the country's justice minister. Ben Ali, who left Tunisia on 14 January after twenty-three years in power, is accused of 'illegal acquisition of movable and immovable property' and 'illicit transfer of currency abroad'. Widely suspected of having engaged in corruption and abusing their power to enrich themselves, Ben Ali, his wife and other members of their family are believed to have assets ranging from property to racehorses in France.

The justice minister's announcement of the arrest warrant is intended to allay fears among Tunisians that remnants of Ben Ali's regime may seek to reinstate the former president. The decision was however met with pessimism and further protests in Tunis on Wednesday where demonstrators demanding the resignation of those loyal to the ousted government clashed with police.

UK government revises control orders

The UK government announced on Wednesday significant changes to counter-terrorism measures that were introduced by the previous Labour government in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Home Secretary Theresa May told the House of Commons that the government will be rolling back 28-day detention without charge to fourteen days and would end the indiscriminate use of stop-and-search powers by police.

However, the government stopped short of ending the contentious practice of the house detention of suspected terrorists without a trial. On the issue of control orders, May said that current measures would be revised so that the existing sixteen-hour curfew would become an 'overnight residence requirement' of eight to ten hours.

Lord Macdonald, who was appointed by the UK government to oversee the review of terrorism control orders, criticised May's proposals, saying the continued use of electronic tags and overnight curfews for terror suspects is 'disproportionate, unnecessary and objectionable'. The civil liberties campaign group Liberty further accused the government of bottling the decision to scrap control orders, adding that 'spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower-fat form'.

Palestinian Authority defiant following Al Jazeera release of leaked documents

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence against him and endangering his life with what he describes as distorted portrayals of Palestinian positions in talks with Israel. Al Jazeera has, since the beginning of this week, begun a slow trickle of revelations from hundreds of leaked documents covering almost a decade of middle east peace talks. So far, the 'Palestine papers' have revealed that the Palestinian authority coordinates closely with Israel's military and offered significant concessions to Israel on the right of return for Palestinian refugees and control of Jerusalem.

Writing in the Guardian (which is releasing the documents in partnership with Al Jazeera) today, Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas' international relations department, accused PA negotiators of being stooges who had 'acted as tools for the repression of their people'. He added that the revelations were an opportunity for Hamas to 'seize back the initiative' and legitimated its role as the real representative of the Palestinian peoples' interests.

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