Egypt arrests prominent secular political activist


CAIRO — A prominent Egyptian political activist reported today he had been picked up by police, the latest in a string of arrests of secular Egyptians who helped spearhead the country’s 2011 uprising against ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

Ahmed Douma sent a tweet alerting followers of his arrest, saying he was aware of the accusation against him.

In the five months that the current military-backed government has been in power, most of the authorities’ wrath has been aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that propelled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to power. He was deposed in a coup in July.

The move against the secularists picked up steam a little over a week ago. On Nov. 24, the interim government banned any protests not authorized in advance by police, a measure that was quickly tested. Police last Tuesday broke up an unauthorized demonstration by a group protesting the use of military trials, arresting about two dozen people.

A group of women protesters, several of them closely associated with the 2011 uprising, reported being beaten in custody and dumped hours later in the desert outside Cairo.

Separately, police last week detained well-known activist-blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah, and ordered another activist, Ahmed Maher, to turn himself in. Both remained in custody.

The wave of arrests comes as the Egyptian military moves to enshrine its authority in a rewritten constitution that was being submitted to Egypt’s interim president today, in preparation for a nationwide referendum next year. Activists say the new charter gives too much power to the army, allowing it to appoint the defense minister and keep secret the reach of its economic empire.

Although the coup that removed Morsi led to the installation of a civilian interim government, army chief Abdel-Fattah Sisi is effectively in charge. He is said to be weighing a run for president in elections slated to take place next year.