„We got rid of the dictator, but not of the dictatorship”


Repression in (post)-revolutionary Egypt

On 7 March, a few weeks after the resignation of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Maikel Nabil Sanad wrote this sentence in a detailed article on his blog [1]. In this article he analysed in detail the role of the Egyptian military during and after the revolution, and came to the conclusion that the people and the military never “were one hand” - as people said so often during the revolution.

Maikel always had his doubts about this. He wrote, for example, how on 28 January 2011, when the police shot at the hundreds of thousands of protesters on Tahrir Square, the military always supplied the police with new ammunition when the police ran out of it. This is not really a sign of neutrality. And Amnesty International too reported that during the revolution the military arrested and tortured activists [2]. Maikel Nabil Sanad too was arrested by the military on 4 February, and was tortured, but was released after 27 hours (see co-alert, 4 March 2011).

The questionableness of the role of the military can also be linked to personalities. For example, Mubarak's former Minister of Defence Muhammad Tantawi is now the chair of „Supreme Council of the Armed Forces“ Egypt's de-facto rulers. In US documents published by Wikileaks, the US ambassador to Egypt describes Tantawi as „supremely concerned with national unity“ and that he fears that reforms could „encourag[e] political or religious cleavages with Egyptian society“. The Defence Minister always opposed reforms because he feared the government's political and economical power would erode [3]. It is also telling that Tantawi's nickname under Mubarak was “Mubarak's poodle”.

In Egypt, the military is also an important player in the economy. Many companies, especially in the water and olive oil business, the cement and construction industry or in tourism, are owned by retired officers. And these should now advance the revolution?

Repression after the revolution

Maikel Nabil Sanad describes in his article that already shortly after Mubarak's resignation it was the objective of the military to clear Tahrir Square of protesters. First the military banned photography on Tahrir Square on 12 February 2011, to have a free hand against people who might document the abuses of the military. In the weeks that followed the military and police repeatedly attacked protesters who remained on Tahrir Square. And on 9 March, after a demonstration against the proposals for amendments to the Egyptian constitution, Tahrir Square was again cleared from protesters violently. More than 190 people were arrested by the military and tortured in the nearby Egyptian museum or in military prisons. The German paper “Die Zeit” reported that thugs brutally beat the protesters in front of the military [4].

„They tortured me with electric shocks on legs and breast, and addressed me with obscene names“, reported female activist Salma al-Husseini Guda. In the military prison they were brought to, the female prisoners had to strip. The unmarried women were subjected to a forced “virginity exam”, conducted on a bed in a prison hallway, by a man. When the women pleaded to be examined by a woman instead, they were threatened with cattle prods, Ms. Gouda said. Those who were found not to be virgins were threatened to be charged with prostitution. During their ordeal the victims were also filmed [5].

At the end of March, the interim government passed a new law that bans any form of protest that has an impact on the smooth functioning of the institutions or the economy. Only four hours after the law came into force, the military made use of it and cleared the occupation of Cairo University. Through strikes and the occupation the students demanded to replace the old deans and lecturers, who had been put in place by the Mubarak regime [6].

Human Rights Watch reported that General Etman, head of the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, on 22 March sent a letter to editors of Egyptian newspapers telling them „not to publish any articles/news/press releases/complaints/advertising/pictures concerning the armed forces or the leadership of the armed forces, except after consulting the Morale Affairs directorate and the Military Intelligence since these are the competent parties to examine such issues to protect the safety of the nation.“[7]

A further escalation followed on 8 April. It was the biggest demonstration since the resignation of Mubarak, and protesters were not only demanding that Mubarak would be put on trial, and that the provincial governors he had put in place would be replaced, but many protesters were also demanding the resignation of Tantawi and a civilian transition government.

In the night from 8 to 9 April, the military again stormed Tahrir Square. At least two people were shot dead, and many more injured [8]. The following day, the highly symbolical Tahrir Square was again occupied, but protesters were evicted again on 12 April. And again it was thugs supporting the military and handing over people to the military [9]. In the hours that followed, people were often arrested randomly in the streets around Tahrir Square [10].

Even though Hosni Mubarak and his sons were arrested on 13 April [11], this can not distract from the fact that the military has little interest in radical change.

The case Maikel Nabil Sanad

This is the background of the arrest and sentencing of the pacifist blogger and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison for “insulting the military”, and it gives it special importance. „The sentencing of Maikel Nabil is a clear message of the military that any civilian who criticises the military will be arrested“, said Adel Ramadan, lawyer of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who was part of Nabil's team of lawyers [12].

Maikel was arrested by military police in his flat on 28 March, and initially a detention order was given for 15 days, while he was put on trial. The author of this article went to Cairo on 2 April as an observer on behalf of War Resisters' International, but not only he, also Maikel's friends and supporters were not allowed to observe the trial at the military court in Nasr City in Cairo. Even though the trial lasted almost two weeks – normally trials at military courts last only five minutes – it can still not be considered a fair trial.

Firstly, the trial was conducted mostly without any public present. Secondly, Maikel and his defence team did not have sufficient time to prepare an effective defence. And thirdly as a civilian Maikel should not have been tried in a military court.

Especially scandalous were the circumstances of the sentencing. His family and lawyers were told on 10 April that sentencing would be on 12 April. After they had left the court room, Maikel was then – in absence of his family and lawyers – sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Only through the phone call of another person, who visited his brother in prison, did Maikel's family learn of the sentence.

And even then the lies continued. On the next day, they were told that Maikel had been brought to Tora prison. A soldier guarding Maikel allowed Maikel to secretly use his mobile phone to inform his brother and to tell him that he was imprisoned in El-Marg prison.

In a message he was able to smuggle out of prison he told his friends that he had been arrested in order to silence him. And in an article smuggled out he wrote: „I can feel the intention of harming me after the court ruling. Don’t believe the army’s worthless claims about suicide attempts. Hence, the Military Council is responsible for my safety and well-being until the time of my release.“ [13]

After the revolution is before the revolution

The events of the last weeks, and his own arrest and sentence, confirm what Maikel wrote in his blog and on his Facebook page: that the revolution did not yet manage to get rid of the dictatorship itself.

The coming days and weeks will be very important for the future of Egypt's revolution. What is at stake is whether the military and the powers of the old regime will succeed in controlling and manipulating the change – or as little of it as possible – or whether the people of Egypt who – inspired by the revolution in Tunisia – succeeded in forcing Mubarak to resign will also manage to restrict the power of the military. So far, the revolution has not been successful – but it hasn't failed yet either. But the present phase of the revolution is much more complex, and the question for Egypt's revolutionaries is how they can manage this difficult phase of the revolution in spite of weak organisational and decision making structures.

For us it is now important not to loose interest, but to support the revolution during this difficult phase with international pressure. A campaign for the release of Maikel Nabil Sanad could be a good tool [14].

Andreas Speck

Andreas Speck is a member of WRI's staff in its London office, and visited Cairo from 2-7 April 2011.


[1] An edited English version of this article can be found on the website of War Resisters' International at http://wri-irg.org/node/12484.
[2] Amnesty International: Ägypten: Militär muss Folter endlich stoppen, http://www.amnesty.de/presse/2011/2/17/aegypten-militaer-muss-endlich-f…, Zugriff am 13. April 2011
[3] CNN: Egyptian defense chief unknown in West, derided at home, 11 February 2011, http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-11/world/egypt.tantawi.profile_1_egypti…, accessed 20 April 2011
[4] Die Zeit: Foltervorwürfe gegen Ägyptens Armee, 29. März 2011, http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2011-03/aegypten-proteste-folter, Zugriff am 13. April 2011
[5] New York Times: Freedom’s Painful Price, 26 March 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/opinion/27kristof.html?_r=1, accessed on 20 April 2011
[6] Die tageszeitung: Das Ende der Küsse, 2. April 2011, http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/digitaz/artikel/?ressort=tz&dig=2011/04/02/a…, accessed on 13 April 2011
[7] Human Rights Watch: Egypt: Blogger’s 3-Year Sentence a Blow to Free Speech, 11. April 2011, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/04/11/egypt-blogger-s-3-year-sentence-b…, accessed on 13 April 2011
[8] FAZ: Tote auf dem Tahrir-Platz, 9. April 2011, http://www.faz.net/s/Rub87AD10DD0AE246EF840F23C9CBCBED2C/Doc~E7659B2782…, Zugriff am 13. April 2011; siehe auch: Kristin Jankowski: Ich kann nicht verstehen, warum sie Patronen gegen uns einsetzen. Linke Zeitung, 12. April 2011, http://www.linkezeitung.de/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i…, accessed on 13 April 2011
[9] Private communication from eye witnesses to the author.
[10] Kristine Jankoswki: „Gehe nicht nach draussen. Es werden willkuerlich Leute in Downtown festgenommen“, Linke Zeitung, 13. April 2011, http://www.linkezeitung.de/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&i…, accessed on 13 April 2011
[11] Die Welt: Ägyptens Jugend feiert die Verhaftung der Mubaraks, 13. April 2011, http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article13165359/Aegyptens-Jugend-fei…, accessed on 13 April 2011
[12] See footnote 11
[13] Maikel Nabil Sanad: Fleeing thoughts from the military prison, 12 April 2011, http://wri-irg.org/node/12764, accessed on 13 April 2011
[14] More information at http://wri-irg.org/node/12750.

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Related peace activist(s): Maikel Nabil Sanad
Related peace activist(s): Maikel Nabil Sanad
Related peace activist(s): Maikel Nabil Sanad