Friday, December 16, 2011

Protests erupt in Cairo over police brutality

A fiery battle between several thousand Egyptian demonstrators and military police next to the cabinet building on Friday continued late into the night, overshadowing the close of polls in the second stage of the country’s historic elections.

At least 99 protesters were injured in the violence, and there were unconfirmed reports of at least one fatality. The unrest further sharpened the divisions between the country’s powerful military, an increasingly assertive civil society and a political class set to take the reins after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. At least three members of a constitutional advisory board created by the military quit in protest, following the footsteps of Islamists who ended their participation last week.

“I came here to support the revolution against the military powers,” said Sadegh Helmy, a professor of medicine at Cairo University. “Ten months after the revolution there are people still being tortured. This is not acceptable.”

By Friday evening, the scene around the parliament resembled the worst bedlam of the January revolution. Plainclothes enforcers, called baltagiya, on top of the building threw plates, furniture, debris and firebombs at a swarming mass of mostly young protesters gathered around bonfires and assembling piles of rocks to hurl against security forces. Black smoke rose in the air from the upscale Garden City district, near the sites of both the UK and US embassies.

“The people want the execution of the field marshal,” they chanted, in reference to Field Marshall Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.

Demonstrators have been occupying an area near the cabinet building in protest over the ruling military council’s appointment of Kamal Ganzouri as interim prime minister. Mr Ganzouri served in the same post under the deposed President Hosni Mubarak and is despised by many of the young people who led the uprising against his rule.

Witnesses said the clashes erupted following allegations that security forces had abducted and badly beaten one of the demonstrators. Military police and demonstrators began throwing rocks, debris and Molotov cocktails at each other in the early hours of the morning. Security forces aimed water cannon at the protesters and set fire to their tents. Protesters also alleged that the plainclothes enforcers used by the previous regime to squash demonstrations had been deployed to arrest and haul away activists.

“The military want all the youth to go home and be silent so they can cover up their own corruption and their ties to the former regime,” said Mohammad Farouk, a 24-year-old protester breaking up pieces of sidewalk to throw at security forces. “We’re here to complete the revolution.”

Big demonstrations and days of street clashes erupted in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square last month after security forces attempted to squash a small protest against the power of the SCAF.

The Tahrir Square demonstrations died down as multi-stage elections for a new parliament got under way. Islamist parties leading the vote have vowed to challenge the authority of the military, which has hinted it could restrict the power of the 508-seat elected parliament. Analysts say the nextgreatest political battle will pit the Muslim Brotherhood, which is dominating the vote so far, against the entrenched power of the military.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice part won nearly half the seats in the first stage of elections and was expected to perform as well or better in this phase.

One Brotherhood official, Mohammad Abdul Kaddous at the protest in front of the parliament was approached by protesters, some of whom are boycotting the elections. One demanded, “Do you want to sit in the parliament of this government?”



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