Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Red Line - activists stand in solidarity with duo summoned for criticising army

Dozens of activists gather at the military prosecutor's headquarters in Cairo after Hossam el Hamalawy and Reem Maged are summoned after criticising the army on live TV.

You can see the source of this controversy here. Hossam el Hamalawy was one of a number of guests on Reem Maged's ONTV show 'biladna'. It was about whether or not the assembled guests would be taking part in Egypt's 'Second Day of Rage' on Friday May 27th.

For those that haven't watched it or can't understand it, the controversy is likely a result of when Hossam (or 3arabawy as he is otherwise known) specifically points the finger at Hamdy Badeen, a general in charge of the military police. He implies that he should be held responsible for the gross violations of the military police. 

Now, military abuses since the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) took over are well documented: Torture, between 5-10,000 civilians tried in military courts and this despicable shameful display of military abuse are fast eroding any credibility the army may have had when they first took over after Mubarak's ouster.

Alongside these glaring abuses of power the military displays an incredible arrogance in dealing with criticism of such abuse. The army sees itself as a 'red line' in terms of freedom of speech: chant in Tahrir, denounce our former pal Mubarak, but whatever you do, don't criticise Egypt's great army. 

In March, blogger Michael Nabil was arrested and charged with 'insulting the military establishment' and 'spreading false information'. Last week artist Ganzeer was detained for a day for spreading this 'mask of freedom' depicting the army's idea of liberty. And then on May 30th after Hossam el Hamalawy's appearance on ONTV, the military summoned him and TV presenter Reem to the military prosecutor's office.

Dozens of activists turned up today outside the military building to stand in solidarity with Maged and Hamalawy, as well as Nabil Sharaf el-Din who was also summoned. The chants from the protesters were largely anti SCAF, and anti- Tantawi, leader of the SCAF and therefore defacto leader of Egypt right now. 

After being inside for several hours they were eventually released. Reem, Hossam and their lawyers said they were not being officially investigated. They just 'discussed' the matter of Hossam's comments on the program, and asked Hossam to provide them with evidence of the military police violations. This won't be difficult, and as Hossam pointed out (in the video of today's protest) they have already provided a case to the general prosecutor and the military prosecutor. 

Thankfully, Hossam and Reem are out. But this bullying and intimidation serves to reinforce the army's 'red line' that says that they are not to be criticised in public. Egypt's blogging community defied them on May 23, but at other times such defiance results in anything from a telling off to a prison sentence after a military trial. 

The military may portray themselves as defenders of the revolution, but they continue to operate in a way which is contrary to the values of the revolution, repressing the very freedoms that Egypt rose up to oppose. Criticism of a country's rulers is part and parcel of democracy, and the SCAF and whoever eventually replaces them had better get used to it. 

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