CAIRO // Three weeks after the end of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the impact is still being felt in Egypt with almost daily protests in support of Gaza and calls for the opening of the Rafah border as well as the release of more than 700 detainees who were arrested during - and some even before - the offensive started in December. Scores of demonstrators gathered at the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo yesterday to protest against the arrest and imprisonment of a number of activists by a military court, including Magdi Hussein, an outspoken Islamist journalist and activist with the opposition Labour party. Hussein, 58, was sentenced on Wednesday to two years in prison and fined 5,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh3,300) by a military court for illegally entering Gaza. "Shaking hands with the enemy is treason, while supporting Gaza is a national duty. What Magdi Ahmed Hussein did reflects the will of the nation," read one of the banners at yesterday's protest. "It's so humiliating and shameful that Egypt is participating in the blockade," the crowd chanted.
Hussein's wife, supporters and lawyers were banned from entering the military court in Ismailia, 120km east of Cairo. "We were not able to see Magdi and we don't know which prison he was sent to," said his wife, Naglaa el Qalyoubi. "When a criminal commits a crime, he tries to erase all its traces and that's what this regime is doing. "The regime is adamant about fighting noble resistance till the end, either by sieging it till it kneels down and surrenders or by dying from hunger. They are settling scores with Magdi for supporting Gaza and for his opposition to [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak."
Hussein was accused of sneaking last month through tunnels that link the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip. He was arrested upon his return through the Rafah border crossing on Jan 31 and transferred to a military trial a week ago. The tunnels carry people and goods into Gaza in an attempt to circumvent the blockade imposed by Israel - and facilitated by the Egyptian government - since June 2007. Israel complains that the tunnels are also used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic opposition group, which organised protest across Egypt during the war, said about 700 of its members were arrested. Young activists Ahmed Doma and Ahmed Kamal were sentenced to one year and a fine by the same military court on Tuesday for going to Gaza. Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian activist, was arrested in Cairo during a rally in support of Palestinians in Gaza and held in custody for five days. He was released on Wednesday. "I think 2009 will witness harsh punishments from the regime against all the trends of opposition," said George Ishaq, a leader with Kefaya, a largely secular opposition group. Some activists like Gamal Abdel Salam were arrested before the war. Abdel Salam, 52, the head of the Egyptian Doctors' Syndicate Relief Committee, which organised a number of convoys to the Gaza strip, was arrested on Dec 16, 11 days before the war began, and was only released this week. "I'm very proud to announce that I have worked in Relief activities since 1985," Mr Salam said at the press conference. "If going to Gaza and helping its people is a crime, we are ready to commit it every day and pay the price." He recounted how state security officers came to arrest him at dawn and "treated me like a murderer, not a doctor and Relief activist". "I was accused of being a leader of a terrorist cell working for Hamas and was accused of facilitating the travel of Mohammed Adel [Fahimi] and Abdel Aziz Mogahed to Gaza, two names I've never heard before," he said. Mohammed Adel Fahimi is a 19-year-old blogger who was arrested in November for numerous offences including partaking in breaking through the Rafah border barrier in Jan 2008 and writing in support of Gaza on his website. "We have suffered the ordeal of our son for three months," said Mr Fahimi's father, Adel. "But our suffering in nothing compared to the suffering of the children, mothers and fathers of Gaza." The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said in a statement on Monday that bloggers have become a "major target" for state security and that their arrests were generally "under the cloak of the state of emergency". Egypt's emergency law, in place since 1981, allows authorities to detain people without charge. email@example.com