'Get the word out there, by sharing it:'
Egyptian ‘freemen’ movement braces for confrontationA new Egyptian protest movement has managed to draw young people from a host of political parties, youth groups and football fan clubs.
The Ahrar (“Freemen”) movement was formed during Egypt’s January 2011 revolution, according to the group’s website, which says members are united in their “love for freedom.”
Although it has maintained a low profile over the last three years, Ahrar was at the center of media attention last Friday, when six of its members were killed by security forces after staging demonstrations – both against military rule and against calls for the reinstatement of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
Since then, Egyptians have been enquiring about the movement, its message, and the identity of its members, further disconcerting authorities seeking to curb demonstrations and political turmoil.
A few days before Friday’s protest, Ahrar had announced that its members would converge on Sphinx Square in Cairo’s upscale Mohandiseen district. Two days before the planned demonstration, however, authorities cordoned off the square.
Ahrar members did not despair, shifting their protest venue to the nearby Lebanon Square.
Their choice of location revealed their keenness to avoid protest sites in which Morsi supporters have gathered each Friday to decry what they call the July 3 “military coup” against Egypt’s elected head of state.
During the violent confrontations with police that followed Friday’s rallies, six Ahrar demonstrators were killed, according to the movement.
“I still can’t understand why a movement like ours should be a pain in the head for the authorities in ways that made them kill six of our colleagues,” movement member Al-Baraa Hazem told Anadolu Agency.
Stressing that he does not officially speak for the group, Hazem believes Ahrar has fallen afoul of authorities because it continues to speak out against both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hazem said Ahrar was united in its rejection of the three forces now fighting for control of Egypt: the military establishment, the Muslim Brotherhood and holdovers from the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
“We belong to the revolution,” Hazem said. “We don’t recognize any military-imposed political roadmaps. We don’t want either Morsi or Mubarak to return to power.”
Hazem said Ahrar did not recognize decisions issued by the army on July 3 following Morsi’s ouster, including the suspension of Egypt’s constitution.
On its official website, Ahrar says it does not consider the events of June 30, when millions of Egyptians took to the streets against Morsi, a “popular uprising,” or even a “correction” – as some have contended – of Egypt’s January 2011 revolution.
“We reject everything related to that day [June 30]: the military, the Mubarak holdovers, and the army-imposed roadmap for political transition,” Hazem said.
According to an activist who once did jail time with several Ahrar members, the movement was initially created by a group of young people with links to prominent Salafist preacher Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail.
In 2012, Abu-Ismail had tried to run for president, but was soon disqualified because his mother held US citizenship – a violation of the rules for candidacy.
This group of youths, the activist said, had later decided to launch their own protest movement to counter what they described as “US hegemony” in the region.
The activist is not enthusiastic about joining Ahrar, although he takes part in the protests it organizes, because the movement does not appear to have a clear strategy – aside from street mobilization – for countering perceived US hegemony.
When Ahrar put on revolutionary garb, he said, young people from other movements – including a football fan club dubbed the “White Knights” and Egypt’s 6 April youth group – joined it.
“This was why some people liked to describe Ahrar as part of the ‘Third Trend’,” the activist explained. “It consists of youths from the Strong Egypt Party, the Egyptian Current Party and people who have broken ranks with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Ahrar was the target of a major media smear campaign in late July, when the authorities cracked down on the movement and arrested six of its most prominent members, who they accused of seeking to form a “terrorist network.”
News reports at the time had alleged that Ahrar members had used violence when dealing with citizens and the authorities by carrying weapons and employing tactics used by terrorist organization Al Qaeda.
Movement members were also charged with breaking into the US embassy in Cairo and raising the Al Qaeda flag during a spate of anti-US protests in September of last year.
Nevertheless, Ahrar has continued its protest activities in several districts of Cairo. It recently staged a rally outside the Al-Quba presidential palace in eastern Cairo against interim President Adly Mansour, who the movement accused of being a puppet of Egypt’s powerful military establishment.
Analysts, however, say the group poses little threat to Egypt’s new military-backed rulers.
“I don’t think this movement poses any threat to the country’s security agencies,” Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, told AA. “So far, the movement does not have a strong popular base because it has not taken a specific route or even upgraded its performance.”
Ahrar, he said, adopts ideas that are only linked to specific occasions. In this respect, he explained, the movement is similar to other protest groups that have briefly cropped up in the past, such as Egypt’s “Black Bloc,” a group of masked activists who appeared last year with the stated aim of countering “street domination” by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Black Bloc emerged for the first time during demonstrations marking the second anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. Its members were accused of engaging in violent activity, including the torching of Muslim Brotherhood offices.
“The important question is whether Ahrar represents a real danger,” Fahmi said, adding that, so far, the movement did not appear to pose any real threat to the state, while its messages remained largely symbolic.
Source: World Bulletin