Tag Archives: Tahrir

3rd Anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud St Clashes

First published on Vice November 21st here – all photos by Amanda Mustard (@mustardphoto)

The second anniversary of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes was a confusing day of demonstration. Hundreds gathered in Cairo Tuesday to pay tribute to protesters killed by riot police during a crackdown on the Egyptian revolution two years ago, but wanting to commemorate those who lost their lives was about as close to an overall common ground as it got. Demonstrators included people who support the army, people who support the Muslim Brotherhood and people who support neither and don’t want to be ruled by either a military junta or Islamists.

Thankfully, the scenes of the 19th of November, 2011 weren’t repeated, but small scuffles did break out near the Egyptian Museum just off Tahrir Square as pro-army groups exchanged verbal – and then physical – blows with their opponents. For the most part, it was a peaceful day of demonstrations dominated by the “third square” movement that opposes both the army and the Brotherhood.

In the build up to the day’s events, various groups released statements outlining their plans for the day. The pro-Brotherhood “Anti-Coup Alliance” made it clear that they had no intention of going anywhere near Mohamed Mahmoud Street or Tahrir Square, “so as not to give a chance to the conspirators to fabricate violent incidents and blame them on the [Anti-Coup Alliance]”. They kept their word and their protests were mostly confined to areas away from central downtown Cairo.

Overall, it was the incongruous plans of the pro-army groups that seemed to irk the majority of Egyptians. They called for mass demonstrations in remembrance of the martyrs killed in Mohamed Mahmoud, but also in support of the Interior Ministry, the police and the army. Ironically, it was the police who’d killed the martyrs being remembered, but I’m guessing the pro-army groups just chose to forget that minor detail.

A “coffin” of one of the Mohamed Mahmoud martyrs

After the deaths of around 50 people in the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud crackdown, the Ministry of Interior released a statement condemning a “third party” in a vain attempt to shift the blame. In response to such a flagrant shot at rewriting history, the groups that identify themselves as the “Third Square” – a mix of Muslims, Christians, Islamists, moderates and secularists who reject both the Muslim Brotherhood and military rule – called on their supporters to flock to Mohamed Mahmoud to remember those killed, while also opposing the pro-army groups.

Their work started the day before when a new Third Square group called “The Way of the Revolution Front” held a demonstration in Abdeen, not far from Tahrir Square. Speeches were given and video from the 2011 tragedy was shown on a screen. The mothers of those killed during the fighting also joined the group.

Afterwards, they ventured down Mohamed Mahmoud Street and into Tahrir Square, where a monument “in memory of those that died in the January 2011 and June 2012 revolutions” had just been erected. The monument didn’t go down particularly well. Considering it was built by the current government, many believe it taints the martyrs’ memory somewhat. Less than 12 hours after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, it was being taken apart and sprayed with graffiti that read: “Down with those who betrayed us: Brotherhood; remnants of the old regime; and the Interior Ministry.”

A man who supports General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – the First Deputy Prime Minister, who led the coup against former President Morsi – watching from the periphery turned to me and whispered, “This is a disgrace, for the martyrs and all Egyptians. These dogs are not real Egyptians.”

On the anniversary itself, a rare criticism of the incredibly powerful army could be seen and heard throughout downtown Cairo. Until Tuesday, the pro-Brotherhood groups had a monopoly on anti-army chants and the pro-army groups dominated the anti-Brotherhood chants. Now, members of the Third Square were – almost in the same breath – chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood andthe army. “Down with military rule!” could be heard alongside calls against former President Mohamed Morsi.

It was noticeable that there wasn’t much of a security presence, especially given that the area is often inundated with police and armoured vehicles (APCs). Clearly aware that their presence would likely cause more problems that it would prevent, security forces had evacuated the area.

A take on the old chant of, “Aysh horreya, adala igtameya (bread, freedom, social justice)” was modified to, “Aysh, Horreya, Tutheer ad-Dakhleya (bread, freedom, purge the Interior Ministry)” in a special mention to the feeling that impunity is rife in the security forces. Mohamed Fatthi, a member of the Way of the Revolution Front, explained: “We won’t allow [pro-Sisi groups] to stain the memory. We want justice and the Interior Ministry needs serious reform before that will be possible.”

The entrance to Mohamed Mahmoud Street from Tahrir had a banner that read: “No entry – army, Brotherhood, remnants of the old regime.” Several coffins lay at the entrance to the street, symbolising those martyred two years ago.

The pink camofuflage graffiti lining the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud

Up on the wall was a large new piece of pink camouflage graffiti – an apparent slight against the armed forces and their supporters who’d intended to occupy the street. In Tahrir itself, there seemed to be a blend of allegiances happily mixing among one another. In fact, it was only clear from the signs they were carrying as to what their affiliations were, with some brandishing portraits of General Sisi and others wearing Third Square T-shirts.

An odd development of the various groups being among one another was the sudden influx of hand-signs depicting allegiances. Occasionally, the famous four-finger “Rabaa” hand sign – a symbol of remembrance to the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp – was held aloft, countered by the two-finger peace sign now claimed by pro-army Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Way of the Revolution Front and other Third Square groups were using the three-finger hand sign, showing an allegiance to neither the army nor the Brotherhood. The sheer amount of hand signs, all meaning representing opposition to each other, made the otherwise peaceful atmosphere slightly surreal.

However, the weirdest part of the day arrived after sunset. As well as being the second anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, the 19th of November was also the second leg of Egypt’s World Cup qualifying match against Ghana. They had lost the first leg 5-1, so needed to win by a five-goal margin in order to make it to the World Cup. That wasn’t exactly likely – but nevertheless, as soon as the match began on the screens set up around Tahrir, the hundreds of chanting demonstrators suddenly fell quiet, squeezing up against each other to watch the match. Egypt won 2-1, but failed to qualify.

After that, as though the preceding 90 minutes had never happened, the chanting continued and small clashes broke out by the Arab League building on the edge of Tahrir Square. For the first time that day, some tear gas was fired to disperse the crowd, a man was killed after being hit by birdshot and the back-and-forth between protesters and security was once again in motion.

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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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