Dozens of activists launched a hunger strike on Sunday at the Egyptian Press Syndicate’s headquarters in Cairo to protest against military rule and the continued detention of dozens of activists by military authorities.
At noon, several journalists and activists formally began the hunger strike, welcoming others to join the campaign in solidarity with their demands.
At 4pm, participants staged a symbolic protest outside the syndicate.
Presidential candidate Khaled Ali, prominent television presenter Reem Magued and leftist MP Ziad El-Eleimy all announced that they would participate in the rally.
Calls for the protest came in response to recent statements by several activists that remain in military detention that they planned to stage a hunger strike beginning on Sunday until their respective cases are referred to civil, rather than military, courts.
The activists have been held in military detention since their arrest during the May 4th clashes between demonstrators and security forces outside defence ministry headquarters in Cairo’s Abbasiya district.
More than 300 were arrested earlier this month following mass demonstrations against Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Although a number have since been released, but 89 remain in custody.
Detainees face several charges, including encroaching on state institutions, using violence against military personnel, disrupting traffic, gathering illegally and trespassing on restricted military areas.
The military has repeatedly claimed that the arrests came only after demonstrators had attempted to storm the defence ministry.
However, activists accuse military police of using excessive force to disperse demonstrators and referring civilians to military courts.
Egyptian activists have long campaigned for an end to the practice of referring civilians to military tribunals, demanding that all civilians facing military prosecution be referred to civil courts.
Some 12,000 civilians are estimated to have faced military prosecution since the SCAF assumed executive power in February of last year following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.
In a statement calling for Sunday’s hunger strike, political groups also condemned the alleged mistreatment of detainees in military custody, charging that some had been tortured and deprived of food and medical attention.
Political groups that endorsed and pledged to participate in the hunger strike include the Justice and Freedom Youth movement; the Socialist Popular Alliance Party; the National Front for Justice and Democracy; the Popular Committees for the Defence of the Revolution; the Revolution Youth Coalition; the Revolutionary Socialists; the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces; the Second Revolution of Rage; the Egyptian Current Party; the Free Islamist Current; the Free Islamist Alliance; the General Islamist Current; the Salafist Front; the ‘We are all Detainees’ movement; the ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign; the National Association for Change; the ‘Our Rights’ movement; the Egyptian Feminist Alliance; the ‘Revolution Continues’ Alliance; and others.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential poll will be held this Wednesday and Thursday 23/24 May, with a runoff vote on 16/17 June if no single candidate wins an outright majority.
Egypt’s next president will be formally named on 21 June.
One of the central demands of the 25 January revolution was for a government that respects civil liberties, unlike the decades of repressive governance that came before.
In their electoral platforms, all of the leading presidential candidates have been eager to demonstrate that they are committed to fulfilling this demand in their own way.
All candidates claim in their platforms that they want to eradicate the previous repression and protect civil rights.
Muslim Brotherhood nominee Mohamed Morsy writes in his programme, presented alongside the Brotherhood’s ‘Renaissance Project’ manifesto, that ‘Freedom is a gift from God’ and ‘the main goal of Sharia.’ He advocates the protection of rights as described in Sharia.
The Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh campaign is marketing the ex-Brotherhood member as a consensus candidate and has made great play of the varied political backgrounds of his supporters.
Civil liberties form the second ‘pivot’ of Abouel Fotouh’s ‘Strong Egypt’ programme and are bundled together with ‘activation’ of civil society.
Ensuring respect for civil, economic and social rights cannot happen in the absence of a strong, independent and active civil society, and democracy is incomplete without trade unions and collectives defending its members’ rights, the programme states.
Fotouh advocates the abrogation of a raft of laws, including the Emergency Law, which gives the executive branch sweeping powers in the name of security, and the press law, which allows journalists to be imprisoned.
He supports a review of labour law and existing legislation on political party formation, as well as amendment of the NGOs law with the aim of preventing executive interference in civil society work.
In his ‘Rebuilding Egypt’ programme, former Arab League head Amr Moussa opens his programme with a focus on ‘achieving security for citizens and restoring their sense of safety’.
Predictably, there is a strong focus on workers’ rights in the platform of labour lawyer Khaled Ali.
His programme supports the establishment of strong, independent trade unions. It also puts forward measures to protect the rights of farmers, fishermen and day labourers.
In other areas, Ali advocates temporary positive discrimination measures to increase the number of women in public life, and a law against harassment in the workplace.
Hamdeen Sabbahi, a Nasserist candidate, describes freedom of belief, opinion and expression, the right to protest, the right to strike, the right to form parties, and freedom of the media and a free civil society as the cornerstones of the civil liberties that underpin his vision of the ‘Third Republic.’
Sabbahi describes social and economic rights as the foundation of social justice and describes eight rights that form the core of his programme: the rights to food, housing, healthcare, education, work, a fair wage, social insurance and a clean environment.
Meanwhile it has emerged that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is planning to issue a complementary constitutional declaration within days that would give the Parliament the right to remove the current cabinet and form a new one, with the exception for the ‘sovereign ministries’.
The declaration would also give the new president the right to dissolve the Parliament, appoint the general prosecutor, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, and the grand mufti of Egypt.
The declaration will also enshrine the role of the Armed Forces in protecting the country and maintaining the safety of its lands, in addition to protecting constitutional and revolutionary legitimacies.
Under the declaration, SCAF would decide on all the affairs relating to the armed forces, and its budget would be disclosed in secret meetings with the People’s Assembly’s Defense and National Security Committees.
SCAF would also have to approve any legislation that relates to the armed forces before it is issued.
In addition, the declaration would declare the president the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, with the right to announce war after the approval of the SCAF and the People’s Assembly, the source said.
Last Saturday, political party leaders postponed a meeting on the subject of the constitutional declaration, which was scheduled for last Saturday and Sunday.
l The procedures for securing a US$3.2bn loan from the IMF will stop due to concerns of fund officials about social and political discord over the loan, Finance Minister Momtaz al-Saeed said last Saturday.
At a news conference about the state budget, Saeed said IMF officials worry about a repeat of the Greek experience, when political forces were denied previous approval of the loan, according to state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.
Not only would have the loan supported the budget, the minister said, but it would also have marked official recognition by the IMF of the strength of Egypt’s economy and its ability to recover and attract foreign investments.
The loan negotiations started last year as a way to face the budget deficit and support the economy, which had been deteriorating since the 2011 uprising.
But the IMF set political and economic consensus as a condition for the loan in light of Egyptian MPs’ rejection of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri’s address to Parliament in February.