Latest law limiting demonstrations sparks outrage, protests among Egyptians

Egypt's military-appointed interim government enacted a law over the weekend forbidding protests at places of worship and gatherings of more than 10 people without a permit. The latest crackdown on the freedom of expression sparked protests among Egyptians leading to arrests and violence. Hari Sreenivasan reports.


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HARI SREENIVASAN: The government of Egypt enacted a law this past Sunday that forbids protests at places of worship and gatherings of more than 10 people without a permit.

The prohibition on protests did little to silence Egyptians calling for the release of demonstrators held by the military-appointed government. It was immediately controversial and defied in a country that has seen mass protests play a major part in the removal of two presidents in three years.

Twenty-four activists were arrested Tuesday after protesting a new controversial law limiting demonstrations. Authorities say the measure was needed to fight terrorism and foster stability in the country. Egypt is in a state of upheaval once again. It has been nearly three years since the revolution which swept President Hosni Mubarak from power, and nearly five months since the military's removed the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, the first elected president in the country's history.

But this most clampdown on protests has sparked outrage among Islamists and secular Egyptians alike.

MAN (through interpreter): Is freedom of expression, which has been reserved by international decrees and human rights, a crime?

WOMAN (through interpreter): What do you mean that I have to get permission to go out and demonstrate against a law that I am opposed to? This is ridiculous. It's a joke.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Security forces used water cannons and tear gas to break up Tuesday's protests by secular activists in front of Parliament. Fourteen women involved in the demonstrations were beaten and dragged off by police before being released on a deserted desert highway in the middle of the night.

And, yesterday, arrest warrants stemming from the protests were issued to two prominent liberal activists, Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Ahmed Maher. Their supporters decried the order.

MOHAMED FAWAZ, April 6th Movement: What they are doing is making some kind of distraction from public opinion.

They want the public opinion to realize that the people -- that what the people who made that incident yesterday were terrorists. Neither Alaa Abd El-Fattah or Ahmed Maher are terrorists. They are peaceful protesters. They are peaceful fighters for the freedom. Nor what happened yesterday was an act of violence. The Ministry of the Interior did that, not us. The Egyptian regime did that, not us.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Fattah was arrested today.

Maher spoke with the NewsHour's Margaret Warner in September and was, at that time, under extreme pressure from the military, its supporters and even some of his liberal allies for having denounced Morsi's removal as undemocratic.

AHMED MAHER, April 6th Movement (through interpreter): There are many people like me. We will continue to say that the military establishment must stay away from political work. This is better for the army and better for politics. The military council is not convinced by our demands, and doesn't understand the word democracy to begin with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The government crackdown on dissent extended yesterday, as nearly two dozen women and girls in Alexandria were handed lengthy prison sentences, some as long as 11 years. They were charged with inciting violence and damaging public property. They were convicted for participating in an October 31 demonstration against Morsi's ouster.

The verdict spawned more protests today and clashes with military forces outside Cairo University. At least one student was killed in the violence.