Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Bloody anniversary

Protesters marked the passing of one year of deadly clashes with police at the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street with more bloodshed, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, clashes continued unabated between police and protesters in Tahrir Square and the nearby Mohamed Mahmoud Street, while participants called for a bigger demonstration on Friday 23 November against what they described as ongoing police brutality. Demonstrations originally started on Monday 19 November to mark the first anniversary of bloody clashes that erupted between police and protesters at the same spot a year ago, killing at least 40 people and wounding nearly 3,500 people.
Conflicting reports surrounded the death of a 17-year-old protester, a member of the well-known 6 April movement. While his family and doctors said he remains in critical condition and is “clinically dead”, there were unconfirmed reports by friends that Gaber Salah, known as Gika, passed away, turning him into the first protester to be killed by police since Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi took office five months ago. At least 65 people have been reported injured so far by the Health Ministry, some by pellet shots, while the majority suffered broken bones while others reeled from the affects of heavy tear gas used by anti-riot police.
At noon on Wednesday, unidentified men attacked the office of the pan-Arab television channel Al-Jazeera, overlooking Tahrir Square, and set it on fire after throwing Molotov cocktails at it. Al-Jazeera has been accused of being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood who have criticised the ongoing clashes and described them as an attempt to hinder the effort of President Morsi to restore stability.
Shortly after midnight Tuesday, and following what seemed like a pattern by police to attack in the early morning hours after only small groups of protesters are left in Tahrir, armoured vehicles and hundreds of anti-riot police tried to clear the square and open the roads for traffic. Police said protesters tried to attack the nearby headquarters of the Cabinet and Shura Council in Qasr Al-Aini Street. Protesters usually are dispersed for a short time in many of the side streets of Tahrir Square, only to gather again and confront the police in Tahrir, Mohamed Mahmoud Street and several other side streets leading to the Interior Ministry.
While scenes of anti-riot soldiers throwing rocks and firing tears gas at protesters have become common place, police used an unprecedented, some would say absurd, tactic to disperse protesters this time around. In at least two cases witnessed by this reporter on Monday and Tuesday, anti-riot soldiers and officers hid inside schools in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and the nearby Youssef Al-Guindi Street, and started throwing stones and firing tear gas at protesters. The mostly angry young demonstrators responded by throwing Molotov cocktails at police, leading to fires inside the classrooms at the two schools. A widely circulated video on YouTube shows anti-riot soldiers and officers on top of the roof of the Lycee French school, next door to AUC at Mohamed Mahmoud Street, making obscene gestures and throwing stones at protesters.
There were many signs beforehand that demonstrations held to mark the anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes were likely to turn violent. Only 24 hours earlier and after nearly a week of announced plans to protests by dozens of mostly radical youth groups and fans of Ahli football team known as the Ultras — the same groups which led the clashes against police a year ago — the Interior Ministry issued a firm statement warning of any attacks against its heavily fortified premises nearby. Organisers, meanwhile, said they would use the anniversary to remind President Morsi, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, and his government, that no-one has been held accountable so far for the death, or martyrdom as they put it, of any of their colleagues and friends a year ago.
Several marches were held in various parts of Cairo and a few other major cities, including Alexandria and Damanhour, on Monday. The biggest demonstration in Cairo came from Al-Istiqama Mosque in Giza, passing by Cairo University and heading towards Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street which has become iconic for the youth who insist that they were the ones who sparked the 25 January Revolution against ousted president Hosni Mubarak. A year ago, slogans were also chanted in the same street demanding an immediate end to the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and to hand over power to an elected government and president.
Over the past few days, the chants were mainly targeted at the Interior Ministry, but there were also many heated slogans against Morsi and Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie.
At the entry of Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square, where the American University in Cairo is located, there was a huge banner stating “No Muslim Brotherhood Allowed Entry”. Protesters also chanted “Down, down Morsi Mubarak,” implying that the policies of President Morsi and that of his predecessor were not any different, particularly when it came to the use of force by police against protesters.
Adding salt to the wound, and provoking more attacks against Morsi, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil paid a visit on Tuesday to the Police Hospital where he called on at least a dozen anti-riot soldiers who were wounded in clashes with protesters. An Interior Ministry spokesman charged that some of the soldiers were hit by pellets, reiterating claims that some of the demonstrators were armed with guns. The spokesman also alleged that police only used tear gas against protesters when they tried to attack the nearby Interior Ministry, and that there were strict orders not to use any weapons, even pellet guns.
On Monday, a few hundred protesters, mostly aged 15 to 25, members of 6 April and the Democratic Front, stood at the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud Street while raising their huge black flag with a white fist in the middle. Not only were they dressed in black pants and shirts like the well-known uniforms of the anti-riot police, known as Central Security, but were also holding cheap plastic shields and buttons to confirm that they were there to defend themselves, and to even launch attacks against the party they hold responsible for the deaths of their colleagues.
Demonstrations continued peacefully for a few hours but soon turned violent when a group of young protesters tried to remove huge blocks of stone, making up a wall, that was built by the army and police shortly after last year’s clashes on one of the side streets off Mohamed Mahmoud Street that leads to the Interior Ministry. All other parallel streets are blocked with similar walls, and there was no reason in particular why demonstrators decided to pick Youssef Al-Guindi Street where some of the most violent clashes took place. When a group of protesters saw anti-riot soldiers watching them from behind the windows of a school located in the street, they immediately started throwing Molotov cocktails at them.
Less than an hour later, and when it became dark in Al-Guindi Street after authorities turned off the street lights, the sound of a speeding motorcycle was heard roaring in the background. The crowds cheered and started a new round of chanting against the Interior Ministry, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the bloody clashes of a year ago in Mohamed Mahmoud, young men driving similar cheap motorcycles played a heroic role in saving the lives of hundreds who were wounded by driving them to nearby hospitals. The fall of the first victim in this new round of clashes with police a year later, and the return of the motorcycles, known as “the flying ambulance” to carry the wounded, meant for those young people that nothing has changed, and that their struggle against oppression and police brutality continues, whether under SCAF or a Muslim Brotherhood president.

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