Democracy campaigners in Egypt are sensing victory in a battle of wills with the government over the persecution of two judges who exposed widespread ballot ballot rigging in last November’s parliamentary elections.
Activists from opposition parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Kifaya (“enough”) democracy movement came together on Thursday of last week to defy state security in the fourth week of unprecedented protests. Over 400 people were arrested.
The judges, Mahmud Mekki and Hisham Bastawisi, were due to appear in front of a disciplinary panel at the high court in the capital Cairo. They were charged with slander and faced censure or dismissal.
The trial became a rallying point for opponents to Hosni Mubarak’s regime – and the focus of brutal repression by state security forces. Their case highlighted a campaign by Egyptian judges for an end to government interference in the judiciary.
The Egyptian state dropped all charges against judge Mekki. His colleague, Bastawisi, who was unable to attend court due to a heart attack the night before, received a reprimand.
The climbdown by the court leaves both men free to pursue their campaign for judicial independence.
On the same day, Ayman Nour, a leading opposition politician and head of the Al-Ghad party, failed in his appeal to have a prison sentence for fraud quashed. Nour was jailed after he stood against Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections. His supporters say he was framed.
The government issued several warnings on the eve of the trials in an attempt to intimidate protesters. Despite the threats, thousands demonstrated across the country.
Campaigner Aida Saif al-Dawla spoke to Socialist Worker from Cairo about how security forces attempted to crush this latest round of protests.
“Thursday 18 May was one of the most brutal and violent days,” she said. “Tens of thousands of police blocked most of central Cairo. The night before we had occupied the journalist syndicate building next to the high court, in order to break the police blockade.
“But we awoke to find ourselves completely surrounded. Members of the engineering syndicate also found their headquarters blocked by riot police as they attempted to hold a protest meeting on the morning of the trial. The engineers defied police and held their meeting in the street.”
After Mekki was found not guilty he pushed his way through police lines to address supporters in the journalist syndicate, adds Aida. He was showered with flower petals by those barricaded inside the building.
“He was defiant. He attacked the decision to reprimand Bastawisi, and told us that the head of the judges’ club had openly defied the high court and denounced the trial proceedings as corrupt.”
As news emerged of the court victory, security forces launched attacks on groups of protesters attempting to gather across the country.
Egyptian democracy campaigners are calling on their supporters across the world to protest in front of the Egyptian embassies. Demos are taking place in London, Paris, Athens, Seoul, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Cairo and Beirut.
News is also emerging of a victory among political detainees held in the notorious Tora prison outside Cairo. Many of detainees, including veteran campaigners, were arrested in the first days of the protests.
They were held under 15 day detention orders – which have been renewed – and charged with insulting the president and disrupting traffic.
According to reports from the prison, the detainees had their heads shaved and were placed in cells with convicted criminals who threatened them with weapons, while authorities delayed the delivery of much-needed medicines and food to the prisoners.
The detainees released a statement condemning prison authorities for their treatment and launched a hunger strike. After one day the governor relented.They are now free to move between cells and prison authorities have supplied them with food, medicines and newspapers.
Demonstrate outside the Egyptian embassy on Thursday 25 May at 5.30pm, 26 South Street, London W1. Protest called by the Stop the War Coalition, Globalise Resistance, Cairo Conference and the Haldane Society.