Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Army in the middle

An altercation with residents, then the police put soldiers at the forefront of recent conflict, Amirah Ibrahim reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Violent clashes broke out early Sunday between the army and hundreds of families residing on a small island on the river Nile in Munib district in southern Cairo. The reason for the fighting was to evacuate families who had illegally seized the military-owned island which is one of several such territories on the Nile.
On Sunday, 3,000 army soldiers raided the island to evacuate the residents and restore their property. After four hours of fierce clashes, during which the army and residents exchanged live bullets, the army captured the land and forced the illegal residents out.
The residents moving from the island to mainland started to fire at the troops which in turn fired back. The battle left five soldiers and seven civilians injured. The soldiers were transported to a military hospital in Maadi while the injured civilians were sent to the general hospital of Qasr Al-Aini. The dead body of a young fisherman was found after the fighting.
“The disputed plot of land is owned by the Armed Forces. It was illegally seized by residents taking advantage of the state of chaos that followed last year’s revolution,” the official military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Ali told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The army will not tolerate violating the law, attacking military properties and facilities.”
According to Ali, the land was first seized after the fall of Hosni Mubarak but was retaken by the army. “On Friday, about 60 women took control of the land. We exerted great effort negotiating with them but to no avail,” Ali said.
Military police units arrested 25 residents on charges of attacking troops, harming army property and violating military law. A year ago, the Military Judicial Authority amended the law to stop referring civilians to military courts. But it kept intact its strict articles regarding the trial of civilians who assault military units, facilities and troops before military courts. Thus, the 25 who were accused of firing on the army are expected to be tried in military courts.
Families of those arrested reacted angrily. They gathered on Sunday noon, setting rubber tires on fire and banning vehicles from passing through the main road of Al-Bahr Al-Azam to block an access road to the island which brought traffic to a halt.
Top Interior Ministry officials visited the disputed area in an attempt to negotiate with the protesters to open the road. After nine hours of negotiations, the road was opened but only for an hour. “We had a short truce for one hour to allow them to respond to our demands,” said Ashraf Seif, an eyewitness and one of the island residents. “We demanded the immediate release of those arrested and to let us move back to the island. Otherwise, we will block all roads.”
In the evening, Al-Qursaya residents carried out their threat and again set the fire to tires and blocked the road.
Ali, a resident of Al-Qursaya who was shot by the army, told the Weekly that military police made arrests while “sleeping” inside their homes in the early morning. When asked about his wound Ali said he received the bullet while fleeing the location. Seif denied shooting back on the army. “I do not have a gun. I do not know how to use one.”
Following last year’s revolution and due to the unstable security situation, arms smuggling has been ongoing along the borders to the west and east.
Al-Qursaya residents claim they have been residing on the island for dozens of years though none of them has any legal documents supporting the claim.
Under the Egyptian constitution, the military can seize state-owned lands with the aim of using them for national security purposes. This includes islands on streams and sea along shores.
Military spokesman Ali said the disputed land is estimated at five feddans and had been legally registered as property belonging to the Armed Forces on 12 July 2010. “This plot of land is being used to deploy troops within missions to secure the capital,” Ali said. “Following the 25 January Revolution, civilians raided the island and seized the land. The army acted at once and retook it. It remained guarded and under army control until last Friday when clashes broke out in the wake of peaceful attempts to persuade the people to move out,” he added.
Ali insisted the army did not start the shooting but only fired back to defend its troops. “The whole case is being investigated by the military prosecutor and we insist on applying the law, otherwise, chaos will never stop, no matter the sacrifices we make. We are ready to pay any price to bring back order and stop criminals from controlling the destiny of the Egyptian people,” Ali added.
The Sunday clashes were followed by another armed battle just a day after, this time between army officers and policemen.
The incident began in the New Cairo district to the east of Cairo when a young army officer was driving his car in civilian clothes. He was stopped by a security roadblock but the routine check turned from a quarrel into a physical altercation.
The army officer was taken to a police station, although by law, army officers are not to testify in police stations unless a military representative is in attendance. The army officer later left with no charges made against him.
However, the following day, 400 young officers surrounded the police station insisting that the police officer must pay for what he did. Police forces attempting to defend themselves fired towards the officers, and shooting one army officer, who was seriously injured. In all, five were reported injured.
Commander of the Central Military Zone Major General Tawhid Tawfik, under whose zone the army unit responsible for the attack is affiliated, visited the site of the clash immediately while military police troops formed a cordon around the station. The crisis was soon contained, with the army officer and the policeman signing a memo of reconciliation.

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