x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A year after Mubarak quits, Egyptians grow weary of protests

The civil disobedience movement is hampered by a lack of broad support in Egypt, especially among the Islamist political groups who control the majority of the seats in the new lower house of parliament.

CAIRO // A campaign of civil disobedience and nationwide strikes failed to take hold in Egypt yesterday, reflecting the diminished ability of the country's fragmented activist movement to pressure the interim government a year after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign as president.

The new tactic was meant to force the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) to hand power to an interim civilian government earlier than presidential elections due at the end of June.

Calls for refusing to work and attend classes on the anniversary were fuelled by five days of clashes outside of the Ministry of Interior and in Suez, where 15 protesters were killed. Those protests began in response to a football riot on February 1 in Port Said, where 74 people were killed in a melee many have blamed the police for failing to prevent.

But the civil disobedience movement was hampered by a lack of broad support in Egypt, especially among the Islamist political groups who control the majority of the seats in the new lower house of parliament.

"The people reject civil disobedience," said a headline on the front page of the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm won 47 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly, came out against the plan because it would harm the economy further at a time when unemployment was on the rise and tourism revenues continued to plummet.

Students at university campuses and some high schools across Egypt officially began their strike early yesterday, screening films about military and police brutality and hosting teach-ins about the revolution.

Some newly formed unions have said they would join the nationwide strike, but their impact would not be felt until today when the business week begins.

Tahrir Square, the traditional centre of protests, did not see large gatherings. There were no reports of transportation disruptions and workers at major state companies, such as the Suez Canal Authority, did not join the strikes.

"My initial impression is that the civil disobedience calls haven't been very well thought out," said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University Cairo, who was supporting the students involved in the strike.

"But I believe in the cause because history has shown over the last year that the military does not respond unless there is pressure."

Mr Fahmy said the strike had not taken hold across the country, but it was widely popular among students at universities and caught the attention of the military.

After protests on Friday outside the Ministry of Defence, the military council warned in a statement read out on state television that it would "never yield to threats, and we will not give in to pressure".

"We tell you quite frankly that our dear Egypt faces plans aimed at striking at the heart of our revolution," the statement said. "We are facing plots against the nation aiming to undermine the institutions of the Egyptian state, and to topple the state itself so that chaos reigns."

Reflecting on the past year, Ramy Yaacoub, a strategist for the liberal Free Egyptians political party, said the non-Islamist forces had shown poor ability to unify around a central cause.

"I know that the calls for civil disobedience scared the military," he said.

"I also know that it will not succeed ... the problem is that there is a huge segment of society that is willing to compromise with some of the flaws of Scaf to have stability or some other advantage in the future."

On February 11 last year, Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular uprising that was supported by the military.

A year on, Egypt was no longer unified against a single opponent, Mr Yaacoub said, describing how Islamist political groups were taking a pragmatic approach to protect their power in the new government, activists were fragmented and many ordinary citizens just wanted stability over pushing for deeper reforms.

The task now for the secular Free Egyptians Party, which won about 7 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly, is to "build the party", he said. They were focusing on finding a presidential candidate that could be a counterweight to the Islamist-dominated parliament and develop a bigger following so that they could prove more successful in future elections.

"We didn't win a lot of seats in the parliamentary elections, but we think we can have an impact down the road," he said. "We support the protesters. At the same time, we have to think about the long-term."

bhope@thenational.ae

* With additional reports from Agence-France Presse