Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Tears, gas, trauma

Mohamed Abdel-Baky and Ahmed Morsy examine the wave of protests in Cairo and other governorates on the second anniversary of the revolution

Al-Ahram Weekly

The second anniversary of the revolution saw bloody clashes with security forces, government buildings torched, police stations attacked and bridges and roads blocked. The extent and scale of the protests reflect the depth of disappointment at the failure of the regime to address basic issues, let alone deliver revolutionary goals. They also, claim many opposition activists, betray just how little the security apparatus has changed since Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, was driven out of office two years ago.


CAPITAL CONFLICTS: Cairo has been the scene of violent clashes between protesters and security forces since Friday’s anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. For almost a week Downtown has been paralysed as protesters blocked the 6 October and Qasr Al-Nil bridges.

On Monday evening protesters captured a senior police officer and set fire to two armoured vehicles. They threw stones at security forces who replied with barrages of tear gas canisters. The 6 October bridge was blocked on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for several hours as members of the Black Bloc burned tyres.

The US and British embassies in Cairo, both located near Tahrir Square, said they were suspending services starting from Sunday because of security concerns. The American University campus on Tahrir Square also suspended its activities.

On Thursday night a group of protesters tried to march to the Shura Council but were dispersed by security forces using tear gas. The protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and stones. 

Early on Saturday clashes took place at Qasr Al-Aini Street, in front of the Shura Council, lasting for hours and spreading to the Corniche in Garden City and to Simon Bolivar Square. At one point the whole area was blanketed in tear gas. 

The headquarters of the Ministry of Interior was targeted several times by protesters, most heavily on Sunday. Roads leading to the Interior Ministry became no-go areas, with violent clashes erupting in Youssef Al-Guindi and Mohamed Mahmoud streets which continued into the early hours of Tuesday.

Security forces used vast amounts of tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters.

A security source said that three nearby hotels — the Semiramis, the Shepherd and the Ramsis Hilton — were asked to close their gates and not allow anyone to enter or exit.

A fire broke out late Saturday at the Lycee School in Sheikh Rihan Street. It was quickly contained.

Cairo has been spared the intense clashes witnessed in some other cities, particularly Suez and Port Said.

Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies analyst Amr El-Chobaki says the spread of violence out of Cairo is only to be expected after two years of economic decline and political and security instability.

Port Said, he notes, has been isolated since the football massacre took place last year.

“The whole city has been punished for 12 months now. Its residents have been living under tremendous psychological pressure because of the massacre and the court decision was the moment of explosion.”

The government, says El-Chobaki, should have started a reconciliation process with leading public figures in Port Said months ago.


CANAL CITIES DEFY CURFEW: In Port Said clashes exploded in the wake of Saturday’s sentencing to death of 21 suspects in the Port Said Stadium massacre. Thirty people, including a police officer and a soldier, died in clashes after crowds attempted to storm Port Said central prison. Protesters then turned their ire on Morsi and his security apparatus. Police officers fired tear gas and — according to some reports — live ammunition from the roofs of police stations to disperse angry crowds.

Interior Ministry officials deny police in Port Said used live ammunition. According to one security source, “unknown assailants infiltrated the crowds and targeted both the police and the protesters”.

Al-Shark police station in Port Said was stormed on Saturday following fierce clashes with the police. The governor subsequently requested the army’s help in securing the coastal governorate. By night military personnel had been deployed at key installations.

On Sunday thousands of people took to the streets in Port Said, chanting against Mohamed Morsi and his government. That evening, in a televised speech, Morsi declared a state of emergency in the Canal towns of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. In finger-wagging mode, he said he was acting “to stop the blood bath” and called those involved in clashing with security forces “the counter-revolution itself”.

“If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger I will be forced to do more. For the sake of Egypt, I will,” he said.

Hospital officials say at least seven people died while attending the funeral processions of those killed a day earlier, when unknown assailants fired at mourners.

On Monday clashes between hundreds of protesters and police continued for a third successive day in Port Said, centred on Al-Arab police station. Monday’s funeral processions passed peacefully, with mourners chanting against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Major-General Ahmed Wasfi, commander of Egypt’s Second Army and the man charged with restoring order to the city, held a press conference on Monday.

“We are not here to wage war against the people. We are the Egyptian army, we are here to serve the people,” he said. The curfew imposed by President Morsi on Suez, Port Said and Ismailia, Wasfi continued, was to allow order to be restored in the interest of the people. Wasfi then went on to accuse unnamed people from outside Port Said of distributing weapons inside the city to create chaos.

In defiance of the curfew announced by Morsi between 9pm and 6am, thousands took to the streets and many shops and cafés remained open. “Down with Mohamed Morsi,” chanted the demonstrators.

“Clashes escalated because life is increasingly being characterised by violence in the absence of dialogue,” Seif Abdel-Fattah, who recently resigned as an adviser to President Morsi, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Abdel-Fattah is in favour of the curfew, insisting that it is for the benefit of “the normal man who wants to feel safe and be at home with his family”, whereas political science professor Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed argues Morsi’s announcement of the curfew is self-defeating. Not only is it redundant in that it will be impossible to impose, it will open up Morsi to ridicule and reinforce a culture of ignoring central authority. It also, says Al-Sayed, betrays woeful ignorance of the lives led by the inhabitants of the Canal towns. He points out that Suez is an industrial city, with many people working one of three shifts in factories, at least one of which the curfew makes impossible.

That clashes have been most violent in towns outside Cairo is understandable, says Al-Sayed, when you take into account the way public services in the provinces have deteriorated, and how even basic supplies, such as diesel and some food items, tend to be earmarked for largest cities.

Suez was the scene of heavy clashes on Friday that left nine people, including a soldier, dead.

Pitched battles between protesters and police were fought around the governorate headquarters which was eventually set on fire. As news of the deaths of protesters spread hundreds of people stormed the Suez police station and freed those detained. They also stole weapons left behind by fleeing policemen.

By the early hours of Saturday the army had replaced the police on the streets. Protests continued but with much less violence.

Sunday’s funeral marches saw thousands of protesters chanting for “vengeance” and blaming the interior ministry, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood for the loss of life.

There have been eye witness reports of live ammunition being fired at protesters. According to Ihsan Kamil Gorgy, the city’s head of forensic medicine, several victims were shot by live ammunition from a close distance, and in some cases from behind.

Morsi’s Sunday speech in which the state of emergency and curfew were imposed served only to reinforce Suez residents’ determination not to be cowed. By midnight thousands had gathered in Arbeen Square, the hub of the protests, chanting “show your face, show your disgrace, you’ll see Morsi is the same as Mubarak” and “down with all the Brotherhood”.

The Suez Youth Bloc is planning daily demonstrations starting at 9pm, and has warned the Armed Forces against trying to impose the curfew.

“You speak about the need to respect the judiciary and the law yet you had no qualms in trampling them with your previous declarations,” said a statement issued by the Suez Youth Bloc and addressed to Morsi. “You now talk about the urgent need for national dialogue yet you have always broken the vows you made in earlier dialogue. And now you are resorting to the tactics of your predecessor, threats and intimidation.”

Riots in Suez’s main prison resulted in the complex being burned and one prisoner being shot dead. All prisoners have now been moved to a facility outside the city.

While clashes were centred downtown, security forces intensified their presence in the Suez Canal harbour. 

“Ongoing clashes between security forces and demonstrators in cities close to the Suez Canal since Friday have not affected navigation through the canal,” said Suez Canal Authority President Diaa Mamish as he boarded a French container ship transiting the waterway.

“We have normal traffic,” Mamish said in a statement issued on Sunday. “We have 44 ships crossing from both directions with a total cargo of 2.8 million tonnes. The Armed Forces are securing the canal well.”

In Ismailia the Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) Office on Talateeni Street was stormed and burned on Friday during a large protest march. Eyewitnesses say computers from the office were thrown into the street. Police responded to the protests with barrages of tear gas.

Protesters chanted against Morsi and the Brotherhood and scorned the government’s “begging to Qatar”. They broke into a local government office, also on Friday.

News of the curfew encouraged thousands of the town’s residents to take to the streets in defiance. In the early hours of Tuesday a football match was organised in Al-Mamar Square, in front of the governorate’s headquarters.

Political analyst Moetaz Abdel-Fattah believes the wave of anger being expressed in the cities along the Suez Canal is grounded in decades of frustration in the face of ongoing repression and marginalisation.

He added that most of the people who took to the street over the last week have lost their faith in the system and the revolution and believe that they should apply the law with their hands.

“In the absence of even basic public services and the lack of security citizens sense there is no government,” says Abdel-Fattah. “The attitude now is, if the government can ignore me and my problems in the way it has, then I’m going to ignore it.”


NORTH COAST DISSENT: In Alexandria thousands of protesters blocked the Corniche and tramlines in front of Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque. The area around the headquarters of the City Council saw some of the heaviest clashes. Protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails as security personnel responded with tear gas.

Some protesters headed to the court in the Manshiya district, chanting “the people want to topple the regime,” and “the Interior Ministry remains the same: thugs, thugs.”

In Manshiya some residents and shop owners clashed with protesters. The police station was sealed off and protesters who approached were met with tear gas.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Black Bloc members besieged an apartment building in the Al-Qaed Ibrahim area where TV channel crews had set up their cameras. They demanded the Al-Jazeera Channel crew leave, accusing them of bias in their reporting. Residents in the building negotiated a safe exit for the film crew.

Clashes between protesters and security forces were renewed on Saturday and Sunday around the Alexandria Security Directorate building. Tens of injuries were reported. Protesters again blocked tram lines in Al-Raml, as well as in the Azaretah district.

Alexandrian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Anas Al-Qadi issued a press statement on Sunday attacking the Egyptian media, claiming their coverage of events in the coastal city was exaggerated.

“Events in Alexandria last week, including the storming of the criminal court, setting police cars on fire, attacking the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters, blocking roads and railways, and throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks are all acts of thuggery and should be roundly condemned by the media” Al-Qadi.

PROVINCIAL PROTESTS: In Mahalla protesters threw rocks at Mahalla police station on Sunday in an attempt to storm it. Security forces confronted them with tear gas and chased protesters into surrounding streets. Mahalla, which acted as a catalyst for the 2011 revolution, also witnessed anti-Morsi demonstrations.

A sit-in was staged on Saturday in front of the City Council. Those taking part said they would remain until the goals of the revolution were secured. Security forces responded with volleys of tear gas.

There were similar scenes in Tanta, where a court complex was the focus of unrest on Saturday. Ultras and Black Bloc members surrounded the complex, chanting slogans against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Gharbiya Coalition of Revolutionary Youth demanded that Morsi lift the state of emergency while in Sharqiya Black Bloc protesters surrounded the Security Directorate on Monday, engaging in verbal altercations with the police as they blocked surrounding streets and set tyres on fire. They demanded that Morsi lift the state of emergency and release all protesters arrested during demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the revolution. They threatened to burn the security directorate if their demands are not met in the coming days.

On Friday afternoon hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces near Morsi’s home. Protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police who responded with tear gas.

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