Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans and hold placards Friday showing an open palm with four raised fingers, which has become a symbol of the Rabaah al-Adawiya protest encampment.
CAIRO — The detentions of an Egyptian labor lawyer and a journalist raised concerns among rights activists Friday that the military-backed government’s crackdown on Islamists is sweeping with it other critics of its policies.
Authorities have been carrying out a wave of arrests for weeks against Islamist backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who was removed in a July 3 coup. Still, his supporters have pushed ahead with protests organized by his Muslim Brotherhood denouncing the military and demanding Morsi’s return to office.
In the latest rallies, thousands of protesters flowed out of mosques Friday, chanting “down with military rule” and waving Egyptian flags.
Many also raised yellow signs depicting “four fingers,” the symbol adopted to commemorate Rabaah el-Adawiya, the name of a Brotherhood-organized protest encampment that security forces violently broke up last month. The attack sparked several days of violence that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Two people were killed during clashes between protesters and anti-Brotherhood residents in the Mediterranean port cities of Alexandria and Damietta, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Security was on alert amid heightened tensions following a car bomb attack Thursday on the country’s interior minister. The attack, which was the first such assassination attempt since Morsi’s fall, raised fears that Islamic militants could expand a campaign of revenge for the coup.
Police questioned a man who owned the car used in the bombing, but security officials said the car appears to have been stolen from him. They gave no further details. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who heads the police force that carrying out the crackdown, narrowly escaped when the bomb tore through his convoy. Twenty-two people, including policemen and civilians, were wounded in the attack.
Health Ministry official Ahmed el-Ansari said one of the wounded civilians died of his wounds on Friday.
Authorities have depicted the crackdown against Islamists as part of a “fight against terror.” At least 2,000 Brotherhood members have been arrested, most on allegations of inciting violence.
But the new detentions of labor lawyer Haithan Mohammadain and journalist Ahmed Abu-Draa, who are not part of the Islamist movement but have been critical of the military, raised further alarm among rights activists.
Mohammadain was detained Thursday night as he passed through a checkpoint in the port city of Suez, when a policeman accused him of belonging to a secret organization. He belongs to the Revolutionary Socialists, a well-known activist group critical of the military. His lawyer, Maha Youssef, said Mohammadain has yet to be formally charged or questioned.
Journalist Abu-Draa, who reports from the volatile northern half of the Sinai Peninsula, has been under arrest since Wednesday, a military official said. He faces a military investigation for allegedly publishing wrong information about an ongoing security operation.
The official spoke on condition anonymity because he isn’t authorized to brief reporters.
Abu-Draa had questioned online the military’s statements to the media about its operations against militant groups in Sinai.
Rights lawyer Gamal Eid said such arrests are to be expected because despite the 2011 uprising that ousted authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak from power, the government’s policies in dealing with dissent have remained the same, whether under subsequent interim military rulers or Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected president.
“We are before a tyrannical authority with interests very far from the revolution,” he said, adding that while the Brotherhood’s leaders and supporters are “on the top” of the security’s list of arrests, “they are not at its end.”
The country’s current interim president was the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court and created a ministry to deal with transitional justice, referring to rights abuses by police and other authorities. But he also reinstated emergency laws that give authorities sweeping powers to arrest and strip citizens of due process rights.
The Brotherhood called Friday’s protests for “the people to protect the revolution,” referring to the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak and ushered in the country’s first free elections. They have depicted the coup against Morsi as a blow against the revolution’s democratic ambitions.
The group’s protests have been smaller in recent weeks in large part due to the arrests. Still, the group is still able to rally its base of supporters to the streets.
Many of the protesters accused the police of being behind the bomb attack on Ibrahim to provide a pretext for expanding emergency law.
“In all countries you have investigations, but yesterday not even 15 minutes after the explosion they (the media) were accusing the Brotherhood and the Islamist groups,” said 29 year-old protester Ahmed Ibrahim. “They want the people to believe that we are terrorists.”
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