x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cairo rocked by third day of protest violence

Egypt's ruling generals have now all but lost the goodwill they earned for their support of the uprising that forced the president from power in February.

CAIRO // Troops clashed with protesters demanding the end of military rule yesterday in a third day of violence that has killed 10 and injured hundreds.

Demonstrators and soldiers lined up behind barbed wire hurled rocks at each other near Tahrir Square, the focus of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling generals have now all but lost the goodwill they earned for their support of the uprising that forced the president from power in February, as images of attacks by soldiers on unarmed protesters spread across the country and around the world.

Coming midway through elections for the lower house of parliament, the violence leaves the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) with dwindling options to calm the country and allow a smooth transition of power.

Until last week, the military had largely avoided direct confrontations with protesters by allowing the central security forces under the interior ministry to quell demonstrators refusing to leave Tahrir Square.

After Mubarak stepped down on February 11, people praised the restraint of the army and declared them the guardians of the revolution.

But that image was obliterated on Friday morning when an alleged attack by soldiers on a protester outside the cabinet building drew troops into three days of battles on Qasr Al Aini Street and in Tahrir Square.

The image of a veiled woman being beaten and her abaya being ripped off, leaving her in a bra and jeans, rallied thousands in and around Tahrir Square. The footage and still photo have been widely circulated on the internet, especially through websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and on some state television stations.

Doctors at field hospitals near the protests reported gunshot wounds to some victims. Many others bore gashes from rock fights between the two sides. As well as the dead, more than 400 people have been injured since Friday, according to the ministry of health.

Scaf and its recently appointed prime minister, Kamal El Ganzouri, have denied any mistreatment of protesters in the three days of violent protests and said the government was defending public property against vandals and conspirators.

The state news agency, Mena, said 164 people were referred to the public prosecution for "incitement".

The government's comments were directly refuted by video footage, photographs and eyewitness accounts of soldiers repeatedly hitting protesters with three-foot truncheons and unidentified men - some wearing parts of military uniforms - hurling rocks from the rooftops of buildings on to people gathering below.

"This shows the incapacity of Scaf to deal with the crisis," said Omar Ashour, a professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

"They are dealing with the crisis with repression, rather than compromise."

The claims of self-defence were disproved by the images from the ground, he said.

"Why would army soldiers need to defend themselves against one unarmed lady on the ground?" he said. "What we saw has nothing to do with self-defence. It was absolute brutality."

The independent Al-Tahrir newspaper published a photograph of the veiled woman being attacked with a single word, "Liars", on its front page yesterday.

The sense of calm that came with the first two rounds of elections for the lower house of parliament, so far dominated by Islamist political groups, has been shattered by the conflict. A civilian commission created by the military to ease tensions that flared up in late November has suspended its work in protest at the military's crackdown.

Central Cairo was partially blockaded with concrete blocks and razor wire to prevent people from getting near key government buildings, creating a war-zone atmosphere in the heart of the country.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate and potential presidential candidate, wrote on his Twitter account on Saturday: "Since #Jan25, innocents continue to be killed & tortured while authority denies using force or violence. Orwell's 'Min. of Truth' reincarnated."

In George Orwell's 1984, the Ministry of Truth falsifies historical events to preserve the power of the "Party".

Amid the furore yesterday, the government held a press conference to announce a 67 per cent turnout in the second round of voting, and the results of several individual races.

But the announcement struck a deeply discordant note amid demands from protesters and several political groups for Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the head of Scaf, to resign and hand power to a civilian government. As the conference was being held, thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in a sometimes violent stand-off with police and soldiers, waving flags and chanting against the military rulers. Several protesters appeared to lob petrol bombs over concrete barricades, while police fired water cannon to keep them at bay.

Some activists called for presidential elections, scheduled for mid 2012, to be held on January 25 to speed up the transition of power from the military to a civilian government, but it was not clear if that was even possible considering the short period for preparations.

International scholars yesterday mourned the loss of the Institut D'Egypt, also known as the Egyptian Scientific Institute, which contained 200,000 books dating to the 1798 Napoleonic conquest of Egypt. The building, at the entrance to Tahrir Square on Qasr Al Aini Street, was gutted by a fire on Saturday.

"This is an almost unspeakable loss: a vital link in Egypt's intellectual heritage was destroyed yesterday," said Paul Sedra, a professor of history at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada.

"I considered working in the institute an enormous privilege, simply given the long history and tradition of the institution. Books were shelved from wall to ceiling, which gave the library a very special feeling, like no other library in Egypt."

 

bhope@thenational.ae