“An open invitation to an outlawed assembly” is the name the April 6 Youth Movement gave to the protest it held on April 30 against the controversial court ruling that banned the group’s activities and ordered the closure of all its offices. The April 28 verdict was issued by the Court for Urgent Matters in response to a lawsuit filed by Egyptian lawyer Ashraf Saeid, who accused the group of espionage and defamation of Egypt’s image.
“We’re gathering here today to declare that the ban is of no value to us,” said Amr Ali, April 6 coordinator from the protest in downtown Cairo. “No judge has the right to ban a group with the history and influence of April 6 in 24 hours.” Such verdicts, Ali added, have become a tool used by the state to crush opposition since the June 30 protests that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood and brought the military back to power.
Ali was reiterating the main points in a statement issued by the movement after the ban. It said April 6 was not only a movement, but also “an idea,” and so cannot be outlawed. It pledged to continue its activism as part of its belief in “freedom of expression as a basic human right granted by the constitution as long as it is done peacefully.” The state “has become so fragile that the chants of protestors would defame its image.”
Al-Dostour party said in a statement: “The April 6 ban constitutes a serious threat to democratic progress and a violation of the principles of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions.” The rule of law, the statement argued, is being compromised through levelling unfounded accusations. “Where did these charges come from? What is the evidence that April 6 is guilty of such grave crimes?”
The Free Egyptian Party posed the same questions, and demanded a detailed public account of the legal bases on which the verdict was issued. “We are extremely concerned that such rulings are only motivated by political animosities,” said the party’s statement. “In this case, being silent about it would constitute a political and ethical crime, especially that in the future all is bound to suffer the same fate.”
Ziad al-Eleimi, former MP and member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, wrote: “How could you ban a group that is not a legal entity to start with? And how are they going to close the ‘offices’ of April 6? Will they close all the coffee houses in downtown Cairo?”
For leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, the April 6 ban is detrimental to freedom of expression. “The verdict is in violation of the entire chapter on freedoms in the constitution that was approved by the Egyptian people,” he said. Sabahi’s presidential campaign issued a statement warning of the potential return of “the state of repression, banning, and confiscation,” and of undermining the goals of the revolution.
“The campaign is against the April 6 ban not only because restriction of freedom of expression is a characteristic of non-democratic regimes, but also because it is likely to bring about violence and extremism,” said the statement. “We do respect the independence of the judiciary, but we would never accept its politicization.”
The Revolution Path Front declared its solidarity with April 6, whose members it described as “partners in the struggle for freedom.” The front said Egyptian revolutionaries would never give up their right to protest until the goals of the Jan. 25 revolution are reached.
“We will keep fighting and will not be hampered by laws that have nothing to do with the law,” it said in a statement, referring to the new protest law under which founding members of April 6, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, are serving three-year jail sentences.
The April 6 ban, the statement added, is part of a series of verdicts that prove the damage that has befallen the judiciary. “This is, in fact, the same damage that can been seen all over state institutions at the moment.”
For the Muslim Brotherhood, declared a terrorist organization by the state, the April 6 ban places the two groups in the same position. “Welcome to the camp of the outlawed,” said Brotherhood leading member Gamal Abdel Sattar, addressing April 6.
Support for the ban
Activist and former MP Hamdi al-Fakharani said: “Banning the activities of April 6 was a matter of national urgency. Several of the movement’s leaders maintained suspicious ties with foreign entities that worked on undermining Egypt’s security.” The ban should be applied to any group that operates outside the law and outside state control, he added. “Those groups infiltrate Egyptian society in order to inflict harm upon it.”
Mohamed Abu Hamed, former MP and current leader of Al-Sisi Supporters Movement, which campaigns for presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, described the ban as “patriotic,” citing the movement’s alleged role in threatening national security.
“Banning illegal and suspicious groups is necessary to protect Egypt and its people, and to prevent those groups from recruiting Egyptian youths for foreign organizations.” Abu Hamed urged the Foreign Ministry to issue a “strong-worded” statement rejecting any interference in Egypt’s affairs and court rulings, referring to international condemnation of the ban especially by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.
Tarek al-Kholi, a former April 6 member who is currently part of Sisi’s presidential campaign, attributed the court ruling to a series of mistakes committed by the group, which had cost it popularity. “This ban was imposed by the people before the court,” he said.