Happy birthday, Mr. President

The revolution may not be televised - at least not on Egypt's state-run TV - but you can be sure it will have its group on Facebook. Undeterred by last Sunday's security crackdown, Egypt's cyber-dissidents are calling for new anti-government protests on May 4, president Hosni Mubarak's 80th birthday.
Egypt, protests.
The photographer who took this picture was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet in Mahalla on Sunday. © Nasser Nouri

BEIRUT/CAIRO, April 9, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Egyptian web activists are planning to commemorate president Hosni Mubarak's 80th birthday on May 4 by launching new mass street protests against his regime.

The call for protests follows last Sunday's attempt at a national strike against Mubraka's regime. Although the strike was partly snubbed out by a huge military presence it nevertheless gathered thousands of people in the streets of Cairo and Mahalla el Kubra.

According to Reuters, two people, one aged 15, were shot dead and 111 police and protesters were injured. More than 300 protesters, including two bloggers, were detained. Bloggers have reported that as many as four people were killed in Mahalla el Kubra.

The riots in Mahalla el Kubra came after a year of wage protests at the state-run textile factory there. But in a spirit not unlike France's May 1968 the workers have been joined by a new generation of cyber-dissidents.

Just as the call for the April 6 strike first went out on Facebook, a new group has been set up calling for more action on May 4.

"The April 6 strike was only the beginning. We want the numbers to increase and to give you another chance," read a statement in a Facebook group called "Continue your efforts and refusal on the streets on May 4."

Yesterday, the Egyptian blogosphere was busy countering the official version of the April 6 strike.

As usual, Egyptian mass media provided conflicting reports. The state-run press ran declared the strike a failure while the opposition media featured reports about a day of action, violence, and widespread detentions.

Egypt's Interior Ministry issued a statement welcoming "the failure by the professionals of provocation," but prime minister Ahmed Nazif nevertheless led a high-level government delegation to Mahalla el Kbura on Tuesday in an effort to calm the workers.

Facebook group creator arrested

Meanwhile, more details are emerging about the security crackdown against Egypt's cyber-dissidents.

A number of prominent bloggers were arrested on Saturday and Sunday, including Mohammed Sharkawi, Malak Mustafa, Fathi Fared, as well as the creator of the April 6 strike's Facebook group, Esra Adel Fattah. It has been reported that another 20-30 activists, including women, are being held along with the group.

Khaled Ali, a lawyer at the Hesham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo, told MENASSAT that the bloggers have been ordered detained for fifteen days pending investigation.

"The women are currently being held at Al-Qanasser prison and the men were transferred to the Al-Marg prison facilities," Ali said.

In Mahalla el-Kubra, blogger Kareem el-Beheiri and Kamal el-Fayoumi, an activist from the Textile Workers’ League, are in police custody, according to Hossam el-Hamalawy of the Arabawy.net blog. 

A Facebook group calling for the release of Esra Adel Fattah has already been set up.

Mohammed, the group's administrator, told MENASSAT that Esra was arrested together with ten others in a coffee shop in downtown Cairo ahead of Sunday's demonstration.

"Although they intended to join the demonstration they never actually made it there", he said. "In fact, her face was known to the police who came to arrest her in the coffee shop so it is clear that she was arrested because of the Facebook group."

Opposition to president Mubarak has been growing lately with rising prices and stagnating wages adding to public discontent.

"Mahalla is one cell of an Egyptian body suffering from the same diseases," Ibrahim Issa, the outspoken editor of the independent daily newspaper al-Dostur, told Reuters.

"The credibility, legitimacy and the grip of the regime are eroding," he said.

Abdel Wahab el-Messery, an organizer with Kifaya (Enough), an opposition movement, was more cautious.

"I am not about to claim that the Egyptian people are finally rebelling," el-Messery, who once served as the Arab League's cultural attaché to the United Nations, told The New York Times.

"The element of fear is there. The people are afraid of the government, but the government is as afraid of the people."