CAIRO (AP) — A Cairo court sentenced three Egyptian activists on Wednesday to two years in prison each for vandalizing a memorial dedicated to slain protesters in the capital’s central Tahrir Square, viewed by many in the country’s youth movement as an attempt to appropriate the legacy of victims of the state’s own security forces.
Meanwhile, security forces sealed off the square with armored vehicles and barbed wire after hundreds of anti-military protesters rallied near it, just days before the third anniversary of Egypt’s Jan. 25, 2011, uprising. Groups across the political spectrum have called for competing rallies Saturday, some calling for a new revolution and others calling for the country’s military chief to become president.
The three protesters were charged with being part of a group that vandalized the memorial in November on another politically charged anniversary, two years after notorious street battles with police in which dozens died but no one was held responsible.
Egyptian activists say they are now regularly prosecuted, painted by the media as traitors, and subjected to intimidation, a stark contrast to post-Mubarak days when activists were hailed as national heroes.
The country has experienced regular bouts of political violence since the 2011 ouster of longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, but the violence escalated after June 30, when millions took to the streets demanding their first elected President Mohammed Morsi step down.
A military coup led by army commander Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi ousted Morsi but sparked a new wave of non-stop street clashes and demonstrations by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and supporters. Hundreds were killed in by an ensuing state crackdown and thousands arrested.
El-Sissi’s supporters say they plan to use the Jan. 25 date to call for him to run for president, saying he is the only leader strong enough to stem the unrest.
Morsi’s group meanwhile said Tuesday that they wanted secular-leaning groups to rally together with them to bring down the post-coup political order, a demand those secular-leaning groups immediately shot down.
“We call on all …(to) reclaim its spirit of unity and selflessness and to promise God first and each other to keep the revolution going until we achieve its goals,” the group statement read and added after “breaking the coup.”
Hisham Fouad, a leading member of the leftist Socialist Revolutionaries, said that there will be no coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing the group of “betraying the goals of the revolution when they were at the top of power.” His remarks were posted on the group’s official Facebook page. He added that the goal of his group and other youth movements is to build an alliance against the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and Mubarak’s loyalists.
Late Wednesday, a rally of hundreds of young protesters showed up in a city square close to the central Tahrir Square chanting against Islamists and the military and calling for a new revolution.
Security forces were on alert and closed Tahrir Square with armored vehicles and barbed wire, a practice that has become routine over the past months and appeared aimed at preventing any demonstrators from staging a prolonged sit-ins.