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Egyptians reaffirm support for 2011 revolution as state bans protests

Security forces step up raids as participants in uprising against Mubarak take to social media to call for protests marking fifth anniversary
An Egyptian protester waving his national flag as tens of thousands gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Square in Egypt's 2011 uprisings

Egyptians who participated in the 2011 revolution are taking to social media to reaffirm their support for the uprising, even as authorities crackdown on activists calling for demonstrations on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of protests that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the country's long-term president.  

Thousands of social media users shared their memories of the 18-day uprising, when crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other public spaces, using the hashtag “I_participated_in_the_January_revolution,” with at least 23,000 tweets and hundreds of Facebook updates posted in support of the uprising by Tuesday.

Translation: The revolution allowed me to feel that I and others are human being who deserve better and that we will triumph.

“The 25th of January was the first street protest I participated in,” wrote activist Wael Ghonimreferring to the date when the protests began.

Ghonim is an administrator on the prominent “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page, named after a young Egyptian who was killed in police custody in Alexandria on 6 June 2010.

 “I arrived at the agreed time to Qasr al-Ainy, but unfortunately there were only around 50 people there and around 300 members of military security. I was disappointed," he continued.

“An old man said to me: ‘Don’t worry, in two or three hours people will come, you’re in Egypt my son, no one is on time’.”

A sense of pride was visible among Egyptians who took part in the campaign.

Translation: Teach your children that the January Revolution is Egypt's biggest source of pride and that you were one of those who took part in achieving Egypt's dream.

Some Egyptians, however, expressed a sense of apathy towards the situation now.

Translation: I was carrying my 5 year-old son over my shoulders as I chanted with enthusiam. He's now 10 years old and asks: what happened? 

Hundreds of Egyptians also responded to the hashtag with anger, declaring “I_did_not_participate_in_the_January_Revolution'.

Translation: I am proud of my decision not to take part. The uprisings were not a revolution but a crime against the whole of Egypt.

According to tallies calculated by the BBC, about 3,000 counter-tweets were published between Saturday and Monday in response to the original campaign, highlighting continuing disagreements within Egyptian society about the country's political direction since the fall of Mubarak.

While less in number, tweets in support of the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who seized power from his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a July 2013 military coup, have been seen by some as part of an ongoing government campaign to stifle dissent.

"The counter campaign isn't significant, but it demonstrates the measures taken by the regime and its supporters to any opposition to the extent that they are now speaking out against the 2011 Revolution itself," said Asmaa Shokr, an Egyptian journalist and commentator.

Since the coup, more than 1,000 people have been killed and about 40,000 detained in a crackdown on dissent. Most of them have been supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, with Morsi, one of the movement's leading members, among hundreds sentenced to death.

Secular and liberal activists have also been prosecuted for breaking a 2013 anti-protest law that gave the interior ministry the power to ban gatherings of more than 10 people.

The parliament endorsed on Sunday a controversial counter-terrorism law that has been condemned by activists for further eroding basic rights and enshrining a permanent state of emergency.

Activists detained

Egyptians supportive of the uprisings have also challenged the authorities to arrest them after security forces stepped up raids ahead of the anniversary in operations that have seen several people arrested in recent weeks.

At least five people were arrested last week including two activists accused of running Facebook pages in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and calling for protests.

They were identified as a 26-year-old man running 41 Facebook pages and a 22-year-old woman who managed six sites, interior ministry spokesman Abu Bakr Abdel Karim said.

"The administrators of these pages were arrested on charges of inciting violence against state institutions and spreading the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as calling for marches on the coming 25 January," Abdel Karim said on an Egyptian talk show late on Wednesday night.

"The ministry will continue to stand against these terrorist pages that have long incited violence against state institutions and made fun of the major incidents experienced by the country recently," he added.

Facebook and other social media sites have been used to organise protests and rallies, and several groups have called for demonstrations on Monday's anniversary.

They included "We are all Khaled Said," the Facebook page set up by an anonymous human rights activist within days of Said's death which had more than 473,000 users by January 2011 and was seen as vital platform in spreading the word about demonstrations on the eve of the uprisings.

Security forces also raided the offices of the independent news website Masr al-Arabiya. Its managing editor Ahmed Abdel Gawad was reportedly released after being arrested on Thursday.

State bans protests

Officials have further warned against protests marking the 25 January revolution as government-appointed clerics preached against public dissent.

President Sisi reportedly said that another revolution would "ruin Egypt" while the Ministry of Religious Endowments on Monday instructed preachers against calling on Egyptians to protest.

In a decree, the ministry warned that demonstrations would lead to “sabotage, murder and destruction,” and constituted a “full crime".

But the Muslim Brotherhood and several liberal and left-wing groups have called for protests on the anniversary of the uprising, although not all explicitly call for Sisi to step down.

Despite these calls, it remains unclear what will happen on the day of the anniversary next week.

"I am not sure what will happen, but I hope many people will go out to mark the anniversary of the revolution," said Omar Hamdy, a marketing student in Cairo who took part in the 2011 uprisings.

"I expect however that if a people take to the streets, there will be a violent reaction from the state," he added.

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