Egyptian authorities on Wednesday took a heavy hand against both Islamist and secular opponents, handing down heavy prison sentences to a group of female supporters of the ousted Islamist president — including teenagers as young as 15 — and ordering the detention of two dozen secular activists, all for participating in protests.
The moves mark what critics say is a bolder determination by Egypt’s military-backed government to silence dissent, continuing a crackdown on Islamists since the military’s July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, while suppressing secular activists who supported his removal but also accuse the new leadership of restoring a system as autocratic as Morsi’s toppled predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
Seven teenagers aged 15 and 16, were sentenced to prison terms until they turn 18. The rest — most aged 18 to 22 — were sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The day before brought other harsh scenes: Security forces beating and dragging female secular activists during a protest outside parliament.
Police detained 14 women, then drove them in a van through the desert, where they were dropped off on a remote road in the middle of the night in a move to intimidate them, several of the women said.
The crackdown is rearranging Egypt’s political map after months when authorities were focused on crippling Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. The resulting crisis threatens to fragment the loose coalition of liberal and secular groups that supported the military in its removal of Morsi.
Hundreds of secular youth activists protested Wednesday in downtown Cairo against the government. “Those thinking the authoritarian pharaonic style works will find it doesn’t anymore,” said one protester, Laila Soueif. “There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point.”
In the face of the criticism, the Cabinet issued a strongly worded statement saying it is determined to implement the law with “all firmness and force … so freedom doesn’t turn to chaos.” It linked it to a “war on terrorism” — pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood protests and violence by Islamic terrorists in Sinai.
“There are elements that want to spread domestic chaos in a desperate attempt to hurt the prestige of the state,” it said.
The group of Islamist women were arrested on October 31 while holding a demonstration in Alexandria demanding Morsi’s reinstatement and denouncing the military takeover.