Egypt arrests “April 6 Youth” activist - group plans for new strike

Egyptian security forces temporarily detained Ramil Al-Swisi, a member of the April 6 Youth opposition movement, in a pre-dawn raid on March 2 according to the group. The detainment coincided with calls from the movement for a new general strike in Egypt on April 6. Last year, the movement organized a similar strike via Facebook that rallied massive online support.
A screenshot of the April 6 movement's Facebook group. © Facebook

BEIRUT, March 3, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Ahmed Maher, an activist of the April 6 Youth movement, told MENASSAT in a phone interview that fellow April 6 activist Ramal Al-Swisi was released early Tuesday morning, March 3 following a lengthy interrogation by state security agents.

Egyptian security forces picked up Al-Swisi in a March 2 pre-dawn raid, and Maher said it is likely that Al-Swisi will be brought in for further questioning on his activism and involvement in the April 6 Youth.

According to a statement issued by the Cairo-based NGO the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Al-Swisi was detained by “officers and armed police” in his home in Giza near Cairo at 3:30 am on Monday morning.

The organization claims Al-Swisi’s house was searched by security forces who confiscated the activist’s laptop and cell phone. Al-Swisi himself was reportedly escorted to an unknown location in a Toyota sedan.

Al-Swisi allegedly received several calls from Egyptian state security agents last week, demanding that he come to police headquarters for questioning.

When Al-Swisi refused, he was threatened by security agents and told to leave the April 6 Youth movement, according to ANHRI.

April 6 Youth was founded last year by young activists who claimed not to belong to any political parties or groups.

The movement, going under the slogan “young people who love Egypt”, began attracting wide support over the Internet as various political groups in Egypt called for a general strike on April 6 last year.

New calls for mobilization

The group is now calling for a new strike on April 6 this year over a wide range of socio-political issues, including corruption, poor education, and high living costs. Its 70,000 member strong group on Facebook.

Last year’s strike in protest of soaring wages and high commodity prices attracted more than 60,000 people to sign up as members of April 6 Youth’s group on the popular social networking site; a development that made generated discussion over the impact of online activism.

Dozens of activists ended up being arrested in the Cairo portion of the strike, which received mixed reactions.

Esraa Abdel Fattah, the 27-year old activist who originally started the Facebook group for April 6 Youth, was detained along with several other Egyptian bloggers ahead of the planned rally.

Abdel Fattah was later released after her mother made a personal appeal to the Egyptian Interior Minister, Habib Al-Adli.

In the end, however, it was the Nile Delta city of Mahalla and not Cairo that witnessed the largest uprising and most arrests where thousands of people gathered in the streets to denounce rising food costs and stalled wages.

Critics of online activism, or “couch activism”, used the Mahalla protests as an example to illustrate their arguments for why online Internet activism does not work in their opinion.

The demonstrations, which lasted for several days, turned violent after security forces allegedly attacked rally goers. Three people were reported killed during the protests.

On July 23 last year, several members of the April 6 Youth group on Facebook including Maher himself were temporarily detained for questioning during in Alexandria.

The activists had staged an event on the beach in Alexandria for the commemoration of Egypt's 1952 revolution but ended up being arrested for openly opposing the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.