Amid the ongoing controversy surrounding the Red Sea islands case, a new trial is scheduled to take place on 22 October in the governorate of Beheira, with 18 defendants facing charges of protesting, joining an outlawed organisation, and inciting violence.
According to local media reports, the defendants include a photojournalist and several minors. “Photojournalist Mahmoud Ashour was arrested while attending a wedding,” defence lawyer Abdullah Al-Nashar told Daily News Egypt on Sunday.
Several defendants were arrested from their homes although authorities are claiming they were arrested during protests, according to Nashar. However, according to a copy of the official referral to trial he provided, the defendants have either previously been released from prison or are on the run.
Several defendants are students. They were accused of violating the Egyptian protest law on 25 April by holding anti-government banners, inciting hatred against state institutions, and chanting against the police and military. According to investigations their protest resulted in the obstruction of roads and the terrorisation of people.
Investigations conducted by the authorities further revealed that the defendants were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
There have been several trials for hundreds of young activists with verdicts varying between prison sentences, fines, or acquittal from charges. Even prior to protests that erupted on 15 and 25 April, security forces had already been conducting a campaign against activists that aimed at minimising the influence of demonstrations.
The Red Sea islands case dealt with the public outrage against the government’s decision to relinquish control of Tiran and Sanafir islands, located in the Red Sea, to the Saudi Arabia. The case was brought to court and pitted the government and opponents of the proposed agreement against each other.
The annulment of the agreement has continued to volley back and forth in the courts, and public opinion over the past week has closely followed the state of Egyptian-Saudi relations, which has publicly soured given the current air of political tension stemming from Egypt’s stance on Syria in the UN security council.
The issue has spilled over from the courthouses and into the classrooms with changes reportedly being introduced in school material. A report published on Saturday by Al-Ahram Al-Araby, a local political magazine, highlighted several changes to schoolbooks introduced by the Ministry of Education.
“Students surprisingly discovered the disappearance of two pieces of the country’s land which were the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.[…] Why does the ministry involve itself in a political case still disputed in court?” the article read.
The article highly criticised the ministry with claims that it spent millions in an attempt to replace atlases and schoolbooks with versions that did not contain the islands. It went on to propose the question as to what the ministry would do if the government failed to obtain a court verdict supporting its decision.
This was not the first time students in schools or in universities received controversial material on the Red Sea islands case.
In May, students of the Faculty of Education at Alexandria University received an analysis question in their geography exam, which asked them to describe (with possible illustration) “King Salman Bridge linking Egypt to Saudi Arabia, passing by the Saudi islands of Tiran and Sanafir.”The bridge is a project that was agreed upon by the two nations in April; however, it has not yet been implemented.
In the same month, students of Al-Azhar University’s media faculty were asked to translate from Arabic to English a text titled: “The story of the two Saudi islands.” The text said the islands did not belong to Egypt.
Students have been vocal against the government’s decision in the Red Sea islands dispute yet many are unwilling to take their voices to the street in light of the current security campaigns and laws that restrict protesting. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) highlighted the “Students won’t sell” movement, which erupted ahead of April protests, although their actual movement on the ground was still restricted.