January 25 will mark the fifth anniversary of the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the Tahrir Square uprising that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, only to be deposed themselves in turn.
The current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is running a major security crackdown as the anniversary approaches. Several activists have been arrested, including two people who managed Facebook pages supportive of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has designated a terrorist organization.
“The administrators of these pages were arrested on charges of inciting against state institutions and spreading the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as calling for marches on the coming Jan. 25,” said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Abu Bakr Abdel Karim.
Abdel vowed that his department would “continue to stand against these terrorist pages that have long incited violence against state institutions and made fun of the major incidents experienced by the country recently.”
The detainees were very busy on social media. One is a 26-year-old man who managed 41 different Facebook pages, the other a 22-year-old woman who ran six.
The arrests were performed under an Egyptian anti-terrorism law dating back to last August, which Reuters says has been “criticized by human rights groups, who accuse Sisi of exploiting security threats to roll back political freedoms won after Mubarak was toppled.”
Other elements of the security crackdown listed by the L.A. Times include shutting down the Townhouse art gallery and theater and a raid against an independent publishing house called Merit.
At the end of December, Facebook announced that a service which provided free basic Internet service to some 3 million Egyptians was being shut down, without a good explanation from the government.
As the L.A. Times noted, the Egyptian government seems interested in going after youth movements, especially those which engaged in online chatter about holding demonstrations to coincide with the January 25 anniversary. The Sisi administration allegedly was not always eager to tell movement leaders exactly what they were being arrested for.
The government has reason to worry about unrest, especially since terrorism fears are running high after ISIS-affiliated attacks on tourist areas.
On January 7, security forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters exchanged gunfire outside the Barcelo Cairo Pyramids hotel, evidently injuring no one, but inflicting some damage to the exterior and making tourists even more nervous. The New York Times reports that some witnesses to the event have accused the government of downplaying just how serious it was, including the attempted firebombing of a tour bus.
Middle East Monitor quotes bestselling Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani criticizing the “oppression” of the government, and pronouncing himself disappointed with the outcome of the June 30 Revolution that brought Sisi to power, which he derided as having “returned the Mubarak regime to power in more repressive forms.”