Flashback from 2011: Activists hope 25 January protest will be start of ‘something big’

A year ago, we ran a curtain raiser ahead of the 25 January protests in anticipation of what was then a largely unknown fate for us. A year later, we republish a story from 24 January that outlines how activists had hoped for a big event, encouraged by Tunisian protesters' success in toppling former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The story also outlines the early demands of protesters who would later escalate their demands, articulated in the historic chant, "The people want to bring down the regime."

Over 80,000 Egyptian Facebook users have confirmed they will be attending nationwide protests on 25 January.

The event is associated in the minds of many with the Tunisian revolution that toppled an authoritarian regime.

Protest organizers in Egypt are demanding the dismissal of the interior minister, who is seen as representing consistent human rights violations, including torture. The conduct of the police has been increasingly questioned since the Alexandria church bombing that claimed the lives of more than 20 people on New Year's Eve.

Egyptian activists have a further three demands: the restoration of a fair minimum wage, the end of Emergency Law and the limitation of the presidency to two terms.  

Although administrative courts issued two rulings in 2010 in favor of a new minimum wage, judicial authorities have failed to specify what the wage should be.

And although political activism has been increasing in Egypt since 2005, activists and experts say the Tunisian uprising has given Egyptians the hope and courage to move from a phase of talking to a phase of action, which some predict will start on 25 January. Some believe that Tunisia's uprising will change the face of political activism in Egypt.

Mohamed Adel, spokesperson for the April 6 Youth Movement, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Tunisian activists have been in touch to offer encouragement, solidarity and inspiration.

He said he expects 25 January to be different from any previous protests because of the number of people participating. 

"It will be the start of something big," he said.

Hamdeen Sabbahi, founder of the Karama Party — which plans to participate in the protests although not yet an official entity — told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the Tunisia uprising was a turning point in Arab history and has inspired Egyptians with the hope of achieving change.

"Now political powers will feel that they're not doing their duty if they don’t move: Our regime is not less corrupt than the regime in Tunisia and our people are not less capable than the Tunisians," Sabbahi said.

"We started saying 'enough' in Egypt six years ago, but we didn't go very far with the slogan. Tunisia has inspired us to take it to the next level," said Amar Ali Hassan, a political analyst.

Hassan added that the Egyptian regime is very similar to the former Tunisian regime, and the recent events demonstrate that an illegitimate regime that antagonizes its people has no chance of staying in power.

"There is a systematic venting-out operation in Egypt that has delayed the explosion, but it will not prevent it."

With the Tunisian revolution in mind, many wonder what will happen on Tuesday and whether the protest will trigger massive change.

But skepticism also looms.

Emad Gad, a political analyst with Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said it's very difficult to predict what the outcome of Tuesday's protests will be, as it depends on the number of participants and police response.

The 25 January protests have already prompted reactions from authorities. Some shops announced that they have been instructed by the government to close for the day because of potential riots.

Activists are complaining of unjustified arrests and interrogations by the police, which they say are attempts to keep them from participating. The National Association for Change (NAC) issued a statement claiming that police used force to take activists to police stations for investigation and detained the parents of some who refused to go.

"All these events won't make us back up or refrain from fulfilling our national duties. We have broken the wall of fear and given ourselves to this nation and we have nothing to lose. We will continue our journey toward freedom, justice and dignity," announced the group in their statement.

Many political movements will join the protest initiated by the April 6 Youth Movement, including Youth for Justice and Freedom, the Popular Democratic Movement for Change and the NAC.

Political parties including the Ghad, Karama, Wafd and Democratic Front parties also announced their participation. A number of public figures say they will participate — such as novelist Alaa al-Aswany, writer Belal Fadl and actors Amr Waked and Khaled Aboul Naga — in addition to members of the shadow parliament launched by former MPs and public figures to delegitimize the current Parliament.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood and the leftist Tagammu Party chose to distance themselves from the protest.

The Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, initially said late last week that it would not take part, but one of the its leaders, Mohamed al-Beltagy, yesterday informed the press that it would.

Tagammu's president, Refaat al-Saeed, announced his refusal to participate, saying it is inappropriate to ruin the celebrations of the police force.

"This is a heroic day meant for the celebration of the important role of the police forces, who exert every effort to defend the nation and the people," said Saeed in a statement on Saturday.

Coptic Church authorities also rejected the call for protests and urged Christians to stay home and pray for their nation's safety.

"We urge all Coptic youths not to participate in the 25 January protests because problems will not be solved by protests and high voices but rather by objective confrontation through the legitimate channels," said the priest of Cairo's Virgin Mary Church, Abdel Masih Basit, in a statement.

Egyptians living abroad are planning parallel protests on the same day in Canada, the US and the UK.

Meanwhile in Egypt, simultaneous counter protests are being planned under the slogan "Mubarak: Egypt's security." The organizers announced on social networking sites that they are planning many protests to express their rejection of any destruction of state institutions by the opposition.

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