x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Egyptian tanks roll into Suez

While Suez has flourished in the last decade because of Egypt's growing economy, people say improvements have benefited only a small and well-connected elite, leaving the majority struggling to find money for food and housing.

SUEZ, Egypt // Tanks arrived on the streets of the city of Suez last night in front of the charred remains of a police station set alight the night before, witnesses said.

Dozens of protesters climbed on the tanks, said a witness who saw at least five tanks. They tried to talk to soldiers who tried to wave them off. One tank had about 25 protesters on it, he said.

Earlier, Egyptians carried the body of a protester through Suez after clashes with police who withdrew from central areas of the eastern city leaving some main streets to demonstrators, a witness said.

"They have killed my brother," shouted one of the demonstrators.

Protesters named him as Hamada Labib, 30, a driver. They blamed his death on a gunshot.

Egyptian police abandoned central areas of the industrial port city after demonstrations in which thousands of protesters overwhelmed security lines and torched a police station.

While Suez has flourished in the last decade because of Egypt's growing economy, people say improvements have benefited only a small and well-connected elite, leaving the majority struggling to find money for food and housing. Anger over that imbalance has erupted on the streets more violently in Suez than virtually anywhere else in Egypt, leaving at least four people dead and dozens injured.

About 1,000 people gathered in front of the morgue on Wednesday chanting anti-government slogans and calling "God is Great" as they waited for the release of Gharib Abdelaziz, 45, a baker who became the third person to be killed by police here when he was shot in the stomach during a protest.

His sister, Wafaa Abdelaziz, paced through the crowd, her arms held by female family members, moaning "You traitors! You killed my brother!"

Elsewhere in the crowd, Mostafa Khaled, 21, said he was not looking forward to graduating from school this year, even in a city where 100 factories produce everything from steel to fabrics, generating US$5 billion (Dh18bn) a year in tax revenue for the national government.

"Suez brings in the highest profit of all the cities in Egypt to the country and yet look at us - we are close to begging. We have no jobs, we scrounge to feed our families," Mr Khaled said.

"We don't want Mubarak, we don't want this government, we want our basic human rights." In the one shabby bedroom of her two-room home in front of the Suez morgue, Karima Thabet said she did not want to be the next mother lining up at the morgue.

"My kids are good children, they just want to find work so they can support their families," she said. She said none of her five sons was able to find employment and she had to bake bread in an outdoor oven and sell it to her relatives to supplement the rationed loaves she bought as well as selling it to her family members.

For three Egyptian pounds (Dh1.8) a month, she can buy a membership card that allows her to buy 20 rationed loaves of government-supplied bread. The subsidisation of bread in Egypt has been for decades one of the many unwritten "understandings" between the government and the country's poor majority, even though food subsidies cost the country $3 billion per year."We eat whatever we can for that day - some cheese, lentils. We only see red meat once a year," Ms Thabet said.

* Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press