Anti-coup protesters took to the streets Friday across Egypt, continuing a campaign of peaceful protest that has been ongoing since the coup in July of last year which removed Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamad Morsi.
Police responded, dispersing the protests with buckshot, rubber bullets and teargas. This escalation occurred during the same period that coup leader Abdel Fattah el Sisi stepped up his campaign for the presidency ahead of elections to be held on 26 and 27 May.
Many Egyptians have expressed their incredulity about the legitimacy and upcoming vote, which will exclude the largest civilian political group in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as several other forces including the secular youth oriented April 6 group.
The Alliance to Defend Legitimacy has described the upcoming election as a farce, adding "We consider Abdel Fattah al-Sisi another [Hosni] Mubarak," in reference to the military dictator who ruled Egypt with an Iron fist for more than 30 years.
Mubarak, who was released from prison shortly after the coup, has reportedly urged Egyptians to support Sisi. Sisi recently resigned from his former position as Minister of Defense in order to stand for the presidency.
On Monday, May 5, in his first interviews as a ''candidate'', Sisi promised to eradicate the Brotherhood once in office. In another appearance, the former general said that people should not push for a free press.
Since the coup about half of Egypt’s TV stations and newspapers have been closed, and the coup regime has cracked down on foreign press. Egyptian authorities detained four Al Jazeera journalists, one since August without charge, and three since December on charges of spreading “false news” and providing a platform for the Brotherhood.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, at-least 2,500 protesters have been killed since Sisi took power. The real number could be higher, with some claiming that this many were killed in a single incident during the massacre that ended the Rabaa sit in, last August.
At least 16,000 protesters have been arrested over the same period, as well as some 2500 political leaders and organizers, mostly from the brotherhood and associated groups. According to the Brotherhood, thousands of these prisoners are now on hunger strike in protest against the harsh conditions in which they are held.
''They can barely breathe in cells packed with ten times the number of inmates they are meant for, with no air vents. Neither their families nor their lawyers are allowed to visit them. Worse still is horrendous and repeated torture, from which no old man nor young minor is exempted, and which often includes violent rape leading to death of detainees,'' the statement said.
Sisi's highest profile opponent in the upcoming election is the ''Nasserist'' Hamdeen Sabahi. On key issues, however, Sabahi’s position is nearly indistinguishable from Sisi’s. Following the massacre at Rabba, which Human Rights Watch labeled as the "worst mass unlawful killings" in Egypt's modern history, Sabbahi tweeted: "We support people, army, police against terrorism.''
The Brotherhood denies any involvement in attacks on the army and police which have killed 150 police officers and 70 members of the armed forces since the coup; attacks which other groups such as Ansar Beit al Maqdis and Anjad Misr, have taken responsibility for.
In recent weeks Mohamed Ali Bishr, who was Minister of Local Development in President Morsi's government and is member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Shura Council re-stated the group’s commitment to non-violence. "We are committed to non-violence. It is our strategic choice which we will not abandon no matter what happens. We condemn all criminal acts in all forms and manifestations that lead to the shedding of blood of any Egyptian whatsoever,'' said Bishr.
The comments echoed those made by the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie to the sit in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in the weeks before it was cleared.
"Our revolution is peaceful, and it will remain peaceful... our peacefulness is more powerful than bullets... our peacefulness is stronger than (military) tanks, and we, with our peacefulness, are stronger than killing," said Badie.
Badie is one of more than a thousand coup opponents that were condemned to death in mass hearings, one in March, one in April. The latter of these hearings, which sentenced 682 people to hang, is reported to have taken less than ten minutes.
In Brussels on Thursday, Islamist party supporters of Morsi announced a "charter of principles''. The document demanded a pluralist political environment, the withdrawal of the armed forces from politics, transitional justice, social justice, personal and political freedoms and rights, the protection of dignity, and the uprooting of corruption.