A prominent Egyptian blogger accused of attacking soldiers during deadly clashes was released after nearly two months in detention, during which he became a symbol of the pro-democracy activists’ struggle to end military rule in Egypt.
Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s first stop after he was freed on Sunday was Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February. The square continues to be the focus of the campaign against the military, which took power after Mubarak’s ouster.
Abdel-Fattah was accused of inciting violence and other offenses during clashes that killed 27 people on Oct. 9, but he was never formally charged. He was arrested on Oct. 30.
The arrest raised tensions between the activists who engineered Mubarak’s ouster and the generals, led by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the deposed leader’s defense minister for about 20 years.
Relations have since steadily worsened, hitting a new low this month when soldiers brutally beat and stomped on protesters, including women, in Cairo clashes that left at least 18 people dead and dozens wounded. Clashes between protesters and security forces have killed more than 100 people since Mubarak’s ouster.
“We need to end military rule,” Abdel-Fattah said, moments after his release outside Cairo’s police headquarters. “We cannot just celebrate my innocence. We knew from the beginning I am not the one who killed people.”
“We have not gone after the real criminals who killed people,” he said in remarks carried on al-Jazeera.
A small crowd of supporters behind him chanted: “The people want the fall of the field marshal,” referring to Tantawi.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of people demonstrated against the military while waiting at Cairo International Airport to greet a protester, dentist Ahmed Harara, who was arriving from Paris. He flew there for medical treatment to try to save his vision. The treatment failed, according to activists.
Harara, 31, lost an eye in the bloodiest day of clashes with security forces on Jan. 28. Then he was shot in his other eye in the middle of last month by security forces during clashes near Tahrir Square that killed more than 40 people. He also went to Tahrir Square with his supporters after arriving to Cairo on Sunday evening.
Members of an advisory council set up by the military say the generals were now prepared to look into proposals to bring forward the date of their transfer of power to a civilian administration. According to the military’s timetable, the generals would step down after presidential elections are held before the end of June.
Outside police headquarters on Sunday, Abdel-Fattah cradled his newborn son, Khaled, named after Khaled Said, whose death at the hands of police officers helped inspire the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Abdel-Fattah’s wife gave birth to the baby while her husband was in detention.
His detention brought international condemnation, and activists said it was evidence that the generals were following the same authoritarian policies as the deposed leader.
Activist members of his family said at least 12,000 Egyptians have been tried before military courts since late January.
The decision to release Abdel-Fattah, but ban him from travel, also applies to 27 others accused of taking part in violent clashes with security forces on Oct. 9.