x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Threat of emergency law after Cairo riot

In a televised message yesterday the information minister Osama Heikal said the government was committed to protecting all embassies in Egypt after three people were killed in overnight clashes, and authorities would apply "all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety".

CAIRO // Egypt is ready to implement emergency law after a weekend of violence in which protesters stormed the Israeli embassy.

The repeal of emergency laws was a key demand of protesters in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February. The country's military rulers said last month they had begun procedures to end the state of emergency before parliamentary elections expected in November.

In a televised message yesterday the information minister Osama Heikal said the government was committed to protecting all embassies in Egypt after three people were killed in overnight clashes, and authorities would apply "all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety".

Protesters with sledgehammers tore down a graffiti-covered security wall at the Israeli embassy on Friday, temporarily trapping staff inside.

The Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, his family and other embassy employees were taken back to Israel by military plane yesterday, according to a statement by Mena, the Egyptian state news agency.

Mr Levanon will resume his post "as soon as the security of the embassy is provided by Egypt", the Israeli government spokesman Ron Sofer said.

Many of the roughly 150 protestors who remained at the embassy yesterday afternoon said they were inspired by the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's outspoken criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Mr Erdogan, who is to arrive in Egypt on an official visit on Monday, announced the suspension of trade and military ties with Israel on Tuesday. The announcement came after Israel refused to apologise and compensate for the death of eight Turkish citizens when Israeli's navy intercepted a ship headed for the Gaza Strip in May 2010.

"We're here because our military didn't take any position about Israel after they killed Egyptians, and we see what Erdogan has done and we want more from the army," said Ahmed Adel, a 30-year-old salesman, who was protesting at the embassy.

Last month Israeli forces killed five Egyptian police while responding to a cross-border militant attack near the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

"We want to send the message to Israel to never think that Egyptian blood is cheap, because it's not. We do not want any ties with Israel," said Max Mohammed, 26, a tourist operator who had been protesting at the Israeli embassy since Friday.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned yesterday that the storming of the country's embassy had caused "severe injury to the fabric of peace" between the Egypt and Israel,

According to Emad Gad, an analyst for Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, however, Israel is unlikely to escalate the breakdown in diplomatic ties as long as Egypt arrests the perpetrators of the embassy disturbance.

"We have a political situation in Egypt concerning Egyptians, not just Israel. The Egyptian regime needs to secure and control the situation across society," Mr Gad said.

Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel, said the unrest at the embassy was a sign of gathering chaos in Egypt.

Under the Mubarak regime, protests against Israel were quickly quashed by security forces, but now there is increasing discontent among Egyptians with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which took control of the country when Hosni Mubarak was forced out as president on February 11.

Mr Gad said the prime minster, Essam Sharaf, needed to step down for the security situation in Egypt to improve.

"We need a prime minister that is strong and well-respected in order to deal with [the council], so I think any plan of action will depend on whether Scaf keeps the minister."

A change in prime minister seems unlikely. According to the Arabic television channel Al Arabiya, the military council rejected an offer to resign by Mr Sharaf yesterday.

The US president Barack Obama urged Egypt's military government yesterday "to honour its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy".

Abbas Zaki, the Palestinian state minister for refugee affairs, praised the Egyptian protesters.

Speaking at the Libyan International Medical University in Benghazi, Mr Zaki said the protests reflected a shift in Egyptian non-involvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"Mubarak's government supported Israel. Egypt then was not supporting the Palestinian cause," he said.

"They opened the border at Rafah and what happened last night at the Israeli embassy was a sign that Egypt is no longer ignoring the Palestinian cause."

As protests continued yesterday, the army responded by pushing 200 demonstrators out of the surrounding area.

Doctors at Agouza Hospital said a few people had arrived with gunshot wounds, but most of the 35 people treated were for minor injuries. The ministry of health said 837 people had been injured in the demonstrations since Friday.

"We've had one protester die. He was brought in with a gunshot wound and in cardiac arrest," said a surgeon at Agouza Hospital. "He lost around two litres of blood. We treated him for two hours, and his heart started working for about 30 minutes before it stopped again. Another man, with a gunshot wound in the abdomen, is in surgery at the moment."



* Additional reporting by Hugh Naylor in Jerusalem, Bradley Hope in Benghazi, the Associated Press and Reuters