Back to Tahrir
Protesters will go to Tahrir tomorrow to demand that the security apparatus abandons its pre-revolutionary tactics, reports Amira Howeidy
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Young residents of Suez paint graffiti on the pavement. The writing on the ground says: "The free people of Suez demand the execution of Hosni Mubarak." Hundreds of families who lost loved ones during the revolution protested outside police headquarters in Suez after a Cairo court refused an appeal to reverse a decision to release police officers accused of killing demonstrators in the coastal city and elsewhere in Egypt on 25 and 28 January, the height of the popular uprising. A sit-in in Arbein Square in Suez entered its fourth day today after the Suez criminal court ruled on Monday that the police officers accused of killing protesters be freed on LE10,000 bail each. Angry protesters threw stones at police headquarters near the Suez court building while some tried to break into the courthouse. Property damage of government buildings adjacent to the court was reported. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, military police and security forces had been called in to try to restore order.
The tents have been set up since last week and preparations are in full swing ahead of tomorrow's "Day of Reckoning" in Tahrir Square. After a brief lull in June Tahrir is once again the centre of a revolution that dozens of political forces and groups now fear is not materialising in line with the aspirations that followed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. The figurehead may have gone, but the regime he represented still needs toppling.
A core demand tomorrow is a purge of the security apparatus and justice for the 1,000 shuhada (people killed during the revolution) and thousands of maimed protesters who were shot as they faced snipers, or crushed beneath armoured vehicles. It is the Ministry of Interior, the backbone of Mubarak's police state, and its tactics that are once again at the top of pro-democracy groups' agendas.
Initially, protests on 8 July were planned to press other demands, most controversially the drafting of a new constitution ahead of parliamentary elections, a reversal of the schedule approved by 77 per cent of voters in last March's referendum. The issue had proved divisive, pitting supporters of the referendum results against those who opposed it, a tug-of-war that threatened to escalate into a political crisis. That has now been avoided, temporarily at least. The Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted a previous demonstration on 27 May and was unwilling to participate in tomorrow's event announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it would take part after all.
"Eighth of July is now a day for restoring unity," political activist Wael Khalil told Al-Ahram Weekly. "This is very important."
After dominating the press and social media for a month, the "constitution first" demand has been shelved and replaced with a myriad of other firsts. The catchphrases that best reflect the popular mood are now "the revolution first", "the shuhada first", "the poor first" and "purification first".
Although former minister of interior Habib El-Adli and senior officials from the security apparatus are languishing in prison pending investigation, none has been convicted for the murder of peaceful protesters, a sign of what sceptics say is "complicity" on part of the authorities. The protracted trials of dozens of police officers accused of firing on unarmed demonstrators has further exacerbated the fury of the victims' families who resorted to a sit-in two weeks ago in front of the state-run TV building in Maspiro in a desperate attempt to draw official and media attention to their plight.
But what would most likely have been just another -- though undoubtedly sensitive -- protest, quickly turned into something else because of the cack- handed actions of the police.
Reports appeared quoting family members saying they were being pressured by senior police officers to withdraw their complaints. Many said they had been offered money to remain silent about the deaths of their children. An event held in a Cairo theatre on 28 June to honour the victims was sabotaged by unidentified persons, reportedly "thugs", who destroyed the theatre's windows and some equipment. Police interfered and arrested some of them. This was immediately followed by rumours that the victims' families were being detained. Calls to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo gained momentum. In the end no more than a few dozen protesters heeded the call, yet armies of police were deployed in the area and across nearby Tahrir Square. Chaos reigned as they started firing tear gas at the protesters. At one point a police officer used a loud speaker to berate the demonstrators. By midnight the few dozen protesters had swelled to almost 10,000. Rock throwing ensued and the battle, which went on till noon the next day, was shockingly reminiscent of the events of 28 January when the police fired live ammunition at millions of protesters across the nation. Then, the sudden outpouring of people saw the police outnumbered. They withdrew from their positions, creating a security vacuum, and the military was deployed to contain the situation. Under the new interior minister, Mansour El-Eissawi, security gradually returned, but with the same work force. Continuing abuse in police stations, or in connection with the police, has alarmed rights groups who have been campaigning for the security forces to be radically reformed.
According to the Ministry of Health 1,140 people were injured in last week's events, including 70 policemen. A fact finding mission formed by the National Council for Human Rights said in a report issued on Tuesday that the clashes were not spontaneous. The violence, the report suggested, was orchestrated. It also accused the Interior Ministry of using "excessive force" against the protesters. In one two-hour period 100 tear gas canisters were fired. The report also linked the violence to a Cairo court ruling on the same day dissolving local councils dominated by members of the former ruling National Democratic Party.
Although the police withdrew on 29 June some protesters opted to remain in Tahrir. Last Friday a day "of retribution" was hastily convened. This week activists are again planning to spend Thursday night in Tahrir to guarantee that the demonstration takes place tomorrow.
Activist and celebrity blogger Nawara Negm, 37, describes the 8 July protest as "crucial". She told the Weekly that the military council, Egypt's de facto ruler since Mubarak's ouster in February, and the Interior Ministry "have been testing the waters to see how we'd react to the restoration of the old order".
"We are going to Tahrir for a demonstration followed by a sit-in to tell them we're not tolerating this and that our demands that the Interior Ministry be purified and those who murdered protesters face justice must be fulfilled."
Turnout last Friday was low. So what will happen if numbers tomorrow are insufficient to force the military council to take serious measures against those involved in the slaughter of protesters? Negm says it will "be a disaster".
Activist Wael Khalil doesn't think a low turn out possible. He points to what happened when a Suez court released 14 officers accused of killing protesters: their release sparked mass protests in the canal town and rioting which continued as the Weekly was going to press on Wednesday. It's a sign, says Khalil, that the revolution is alive and kicking, and tomorrow's demands are "very clear".
"The Interior Ministry must be purified. If this doesn't happen the entire transitional phase is at risk." (see p.3)