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Egypt: Nationwide Protests Leave Dozens Dead

Originally Published on VICE, 28/01/2013 – Photos by Amanda Mustard (@mustardphoto)

On 25th January 2011 – coinciding with “National Police Day” – thousands of Egyptians flocked to the Ministry of Interior in central Cairo in protest of widespread police brutality. Eighteen days later, 846 people had died, over 6,000 more were injured and Egypt’s longest serving president, the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, had abdicated his post.

Two years later and Egypt has its first democratically elected, non-military leader since King Farouk was overthrown in 1952. The president now has a maximum tenure of two four-year terms. The infamousemergency law has been terminated. Egypt has a newly elected upper house of parliament, a new constitution and parliamentary elections for a lower house due in the upcoming months.

Yet for all that, the goals of the revolution have yet to be achieved: economic stagnation persists, unemployment has increased, military trials of civilians continue and the new constitution meant to enshrine civil liberties remains hugely contentious.

These remain serious affronts to millions of Egyptians. For the anniversary of the revolution, 16 parties and movements held marches in each governorate while maintaining a rejection of the anniversary as a day of celebration. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters would not even venture into Tahrir Square – “the symbol of the revolution” – for the day, highlighting the current political polarisation.

Tens of thousands packed Tahrir as the old chants of “Down with the regime” and “Bread, freedom, social justice” rang out alongside newer ones of “Leave Morsi!” and “Gika” (the first martyr of Morsi’s tenure). Meanwhile, several marches from around Cairo advanced towards Tahrir shortly after Friday prayers, amassing huge numbers along the way.

In the heart of Tahrir, the atmosphere remained relaxed and non-celebratory as tens of thousands slowly packed the square. The numbers were smaller than last year, but the sense of purpose for those in the square remained resolute. “The revolution didn’t end with Mubarak leaving,” says Mohamed Nawaz, a young protester in Tahrir, “it only ends when we get what is due to us: bread, freedom and social justice.”

On the outskirts, clashes between protesters and the Central Security Forces (CSF) continued in a volley of stones and tear gas.

The injured from the area were brought to a nearby makeshift field hospital in Qasr El Dobara Church. Inside, a small group of doctors and volunteers helped to treat the wounded – over 100 people in less than six hours. One man was escorted in with around 30 small, bloodied holes in his torso and face, “It’s just birdshot,” he sighed nonchalantly.

He had been a part of a march that had attempted to get into a Muslim Brotherhood building on the nearby Talat Harb Street before clashing with security. Members of the march stated that the clashes were instigated by a small group of men dressed all in black – apparently the new Black Bloc group.

As darkness fell in Tahrir, reports emerged of accounts of brutal sexual assault – something that’s been occurring with alarming frequency over the past two years. The group “Operation Anti Sexual Harassment” reported that there were 19 cases of mob sexual assaults with at least six needing medical attention.

Meanwhile in the city of Suez, eight protesters and a CSF conscript were killed in clashes with security forces from the Governorate headquarters, which had been set ablaze during the fighting. Head of the Doctor’s syndicate, Mohamed Salama, said the deaths were the result of birdshot and live ammo. At the funeral processions the next day, thousands marched through the streets shouting “Revenge!”

As the anniversary came to a close, the Ministry of Health reported that nationwide protests had seen more than ten deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The next day marked the trial verdict of the 73 defendants of the Port Said Stadium massacre. With momentum from the anniversary still strong, it seems inconceivable that the judiciary could have chosen such a politically charged time to release such an important announcement.

On February 1st, 2012 following an Egyptian Premier League football match between Port Said’s Masry football club and Cairo’s Al Ahly football club, supporter’s of Masry invaded the pitch and attacked the away fans: over 1000 people were injured and 74 died, including 72 Al Ahly fans. Descriptions of people being thrown from the stands or beaten to death resonated around Egypt.

In the aftermath of the country’s worst football disaster, reports trickled out indicating the massacre was more than just another example of football hooliganism at work. It’s widely believed that the security officials at the time – military and police – played a major part in the massacre, with reports of security leaving their posts, locking supporters inside the stadium and the apparent use of “Baltageya” (hired thugs) suggesting that the massacre had a dark political undertone to it.

The interim ruling power at the time, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), may have created the chaos in the hope of gaining public opinion for “greater security”, thus giving them greater influence in the long run. If that was their plan, it failed miserably.

Ultras Ahlawy, the hardcore supporters of the Al Ahly football club, had been a constituent element of the revolution. However, it was only really after the disaster that the Ultras became truly involved in the fight against the establishment, amassing thousands in a short space of time and channelling all their effort into the political sphere.

In the run up to the verdict announcement, graffiti saying “1-26: Justice or Chaos” sprung up on the walls of Cairo – the date of the verdict with a barefaced threat to the judiciary and government.

Shortly after 10AM on the Saturday morning, the Port Said Criminal Court made their announcement: 21 Masry fans were handed the death sentence, while the remaining 52 defendants had their verdicts postponed until March 9th.

The response was immediate. In Cairo, the Ultras celebrated, while in Port Said, people became distraught, then angry. While the Ultras were setting off flares and fireworks, gun battles were raging in Port Said.

The Ultras Ahlawy Facebook page released a statement that read, “Today was the start of justice, but not in its entirety.” Ahmed, a young Ultra in Cairo, described how, “Today is justice, I am so happy,” before being joined by a friend and singing a song that included the words “Fuck you, Port Saidis.”

It’s hard for the residents of Port Said to see the verdicts as anything other than highly politicised; nine security officials among the defendants had their verdicts postponed, while 21 of their own were sentenced to death. Hundreds of angry and armed residents stormed the jail where some of the accused were held in an attempt to free them. The fierce fighting that followed necessitated the arrival of the army. At the time of writing, there have been reports of at least 30 deaths and 300 injuries.

On Sunday 27th, tens of thousands marched through the city’s streets for the funeral procession of those killed the day before, only to then have unidentified gunmen fire upon them. Al Jazeera showed harrowing footage of the procession shortly after the attack – people running away or frantically scouring the buildings in hopes of spotting the gunmen.

Exactly who was behind this attack remains unknown, but it provoked yet more clashes with the security forces. At the day’s end, Ahram Online reported that five people had been killed and 436 injured: live ammunition, birdshot and tear gas responsible for most of the injuries and deaths.

President Morsi appeared on state TV late last night to invite the leaders of the opposition for a dialogue, announced a state of emergency and a curfew of 9PM to 6AM for the cities of Ismailia, Suez and Port Said, set to last 30 days. HRW Egypt Director Heba Morayef tweeted, “Curfew is one thing but giving the police emergency law powers is really just an invitation to more abuse.”

With so much death in such a short time frame and this sudden antagonising emergency ruling, the prospect of this period of violence dying down soon seems unlikely. But unless these revolutionary protesters present a meaningful and feasible proposal to the Muslim Brotherhood, mental and physical fatigue will inevitably set in and the status quo will surely remain for the near future.

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Hundreds of Thousands Protest Morsi Decree

First published in the New Internationalist

A copt speaks from the stage

On Thursday 22nd November 2012, Egypt’s President Morsi issued new constitutional declarations; then all hell broke loose.

The stock market plunged a staggering 9.57 percentage points by Sunday.  The fighting between the CSF (Central Security Forces) and protesters intensified.  Judges around Egypt have gone on strike.  22 Egyptian Rights Organisations unequivocally rejected the declarations in a joint statement.  18 political parties and groups called on Morsi to rescind the declarations. Yet more members of the constituent assembly resigned.  3 protesters have died.  Today, demonstrations swept through the governorates as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians made it clear that they were not indifferent to the matter.

Morsi’s declarations resulted in: the removal of the despised prosecutor general; the retrial of anyone convicted, from the revolution to his appointment as president, with regards to protester deaths; the immunity of the Shura council (upper house of parliament) from dissolution; the immunity of the constituent assembly from dissolution; the authority for the President to take any measures he sees fit in order to “preserve and safeguard the revolution”; and the immunity of any decree made by the President from any body, judicial or otherwise.

From a man that already held executive and absolute legislative authority, this attack on the judiciary has raised eyebrows and a fair few tempers too.  “The balance and separation of powers in Egypt has been utterly demolished” say 22 Egyptian Rights Organisations in a joint statement released Saturday.  They assert that Morsi has contravened the goal of the revolution – democratisation – and that the arrogation of these unparalleled powers portends a “bleak future for Egyptian rights and liberties”.

Morsi defended his decision by saying he would give the powers back once a constitution and people’s assembly (lower house of parliament) was in place.  In a statement he reiterated “the temporary nature of those measures, which are not intended to concentrate power, but to avoid…attempts to undermine democratically elected bodies and preserve the impartiality of the judiciary”.  Many were less than convinced.  Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and head of the Constitution Party, cautioned that Morsi had appointed himself “Egypt’s new pharaoh”.

18 political opposition parties and groups joined together to form a “National Front” tasked with opposing the declarations.  Among their members is ElBaradei, and ex-presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa.  On Monday, they called on Morsi to annul the declaration and refuse to have any dialogue with him until he has done so.  The opposition parties called for a massive demonstration to be held in Tahrir Square today and the people have duly delivered with the square as full as it has ever been.

Tents were set up in the middle of Tahrir Square as soon as Morsi’s declarations were made with people promising a sit-in protest until the decision was overturned.  One of the first to arrive was 79 year-old Khaled Hamza a play writer and outspoken communist – Hamza spent 5 years in prison during Nasser and Sadat’s premiership due to his activism.  “Mohamed Morsi-Mubarak is a dictator now, but he has even more power than a dictator” said Hamza, his insistence on referring to Morsi as ‘Morsi-Mubarak’ emphasised this view.

Beside banners saying “Egypt for all Egyptians” (perhaps an allusion to the Islamist-heavy make up of the controversial Constituent Assembly) and while the crowd chanted “One Hand” Hamza explained the aura of unity he felt, “Today we are united in our anger at Morsi-Mubarak, nobody would care if I told them I am a communist now”.

By evening the Square was completely packed, chants of the initial revolution were now being directed at their incumbent president, “Down with the regime”.  But there were newer ones too “Morsi is Mubarak”, “Morsi is the new Pharaoh”.

Fighting with the CSF has been constant in central Cairo since the 1-year anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud St clashes 8 days ago.  267 people have been detained in connection with the anniversary clashes and 3 have died during protests this last week.  Another large concrete wall has been erected – a not unusual sight in downtown Cairo – blocking off Kasr El Aini St. off Tahrir Square to stop the fighting; instead it has just moved to Simon Boulevard.

It’s very clear that Morsi has to deal with this soon, before it gets out of hand.  The masses are angry and the people are united.  They realise that even if Morsi is honestly trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.

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Pharaoh Morsi – An Update

A year ago there were clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud St (the street I live on) which left over 60 people dead.  They were fighting with the Central Security Forces (CSF – the paramilitary division of the police) after they were attacked while marching to the Ministry of Interior demanding greater state support for the families and victims of the revolution.  After the fighting, walls were built blocking all the roads – bar one – to the Interior ministry.

Last Monday around a thousand people came to Mohammed Mahmoud for the anniversary and tried to take down one of the walls; they succeeded in taking down two of the 1 tonne blocks in the wall before the CSF intervened and pushed them back.  They are still fighting with the CSF, who are on the roof of the French Elysee building (pictured above) throwing rocks and chairs and firing tear gas down at the protesters, who are replying in kind with rocks, fireworks and molotovs. Gaber Salah, a member of the 6th April Youth Movement was shot and killed in the first night of fighting.

On Wednesday, Morsi and Hillary Clinton managed to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and Morsi was showered in praise for his management of the situation.  The international praise appears to have gone straight to his head as the very next day he made some constitutional declarations: he removed the Prosecutor General (an old Mubarak appointee who is widely despised and faces accusations of corruption and nepotism) by changing the terms of office; the retrial of everyone, including Mubarak, indicted with regards to the revolution; the immunity of the Constituent Assembly (currently facing mass walk-outs and legal hurdles due to it’s unrepresentative make-up) and Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) from judicial critique and disbandment; and most worrying of all his own immunity from any body, judicial or otherwise, in revoking any edict made from when he assumed the presidency up until a constitution and parliament exist.

Morsi has the mandate for these declarations because he revoked the interim declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in June, thus transferring the authorities they had to the presidency, including absolute legislative authority (which the SCAF only had because the lower house was dissolved due to independent seats being given to Political Parties).

The response to Morsi’s new declarations was immediate.  Mohammed El Baradei (Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the IAEA), Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa (ex-presidential candidates) as well as some other notable public figures, called on the people to march to Tahrir and protest this move, which was widely seen as an attempt at legitimizing the President’s role in the revolution.  On the one hand he has pandered to the masses regarding the dismissal of the PG and the retrials, but on the other he has taken on massive new powers plus issuing the immunity of the Shura council (Islamist dominated) and the Constituent Assembly (Islamist dominated).  As one particularly eloquent man in Tahrir put it, “he has given us honey and poison”.

Tens of thousands were in Tahrir Square last night chanting, “Morsi is Mubarak”, “Down with the regime”, “Morsi is the new Pharaoh”.  They have now set up camp in Tahrir Square with about 20 tents erected when I last looked earlier today.  There were clashes on Qasr El Aini St and Mohamed Mahmoud St last night between protesters and CSF with scores injured and some arrested.  It should be noted that a fair number of people out there just want to fight the police and have no qualms with Morsi’s declaration, but the nominal reason for their being there is just that; Morsi is looking like he’s heading down the dictator route.

It’s no surprise that a people who had a revolution to overthrow a dictator are alarmed that their incumbent is assuming immunity after already having absolute legislative and executive power – his situation is every totalitarian’s wet dream.  The question now is whether Morsi is willing, or able for that matter, to backtrack.  He claim’s he is the “guardian” of Egypt and it’s revolution and is only doing this because these are “exceptional circumstances” (said every dictator in the history of time) and that he is trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy.  If that’s the case, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.

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