3 killed, 200 hurt in Cairo as troops impose crackdown

Rallies sparked by army’s bid to retain power after elections; Israeli expert: Military no longer seen as serving the people.

November 21, 2011 01:26
Egyptian riot policemen try to disperse protesters

Tahrir Square protest at night 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

At least three people were killed and nearly 200 hurt as protesters demanding an end to army rule battled with police in Cairo on Sunday.

The violence – some of the worst in the nine months since president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation – came a week before crucial parliamentary elections that will determine the leadership of post-revolutionary Egypt.

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Protesters chanted “The people want to topple the regime” as they rushed at police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas. The deaths came after two people were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes on Saturday night. Overall five people have been killed and about 1,000 injured since Friday.

“This tension between civilians and the military is reaching a decisive moment,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. “These recent demonstrations express the fears of millions of Egyptians over the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the security forces hijacking the revolution.

“The dynamic we saw Friday and Saturday could easily spread into similar events that we saw in January and February in protests against the Mubarak regime, but with one significant difference,” Meital, author of the book Egypt’s Struggle For Peace, said. “In January and February the army basically stood with the demonstrators against the security forces and regime. Now the army is standing with the security forces against civilians.”

Sunday’s violence comes in the wake of massive Friday demonstrations, dominated by Islamists, against the army’s attempts to retain power in the post-Mubarak era.

“There is no doubt that Friday’s demonstrations were dominated by Islamists – both Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists,” Meital said. “If elections are held soon in Egypt, there is no doubt Islamists will gain the majority in parliament.”

Egypt holds its first parliamentary election since Mubarak’s overthrow in a staggered vote that starts next Monday. Many Egyptians are worried police will not be able to secure the polls, although the army insists it can.

Presidential powers will remain with the army even after the ballot, as presidential elections will be held only next year at the earliest. A row has erupted between political groups and the army-picked cabinet over ground rules for drafting the constitution that could leave the military free of civilian control.

There was sporadic violence on Sunday after the worst overnight clashes subsided.

More than 5,000 protesters were still gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday afternoon, many saying they would not to leave until their demands were met.

Demonstrators wore masks to protect against tear gas and showed off spent gas canisters and bullet casings. Metal barricades had been set up on approach roads to Tahrir, where Egyptians gathered to bring down Mubarak.

Many Egyptians are angry that nine months after ousting Mubarak, the army remains in charge and police are still using the same heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.

“We are on the brink of danger.

Those asking for the government to fall are asking for the state to fall,” Gen. Mohsen Fangary told a television channel.

He said the election would go ahead on time and the army and Interior Ministry would maintain security. He also said the army, in line with a timetable previously announced, aimed to return to barracks by the end of 2012.

The army-backed cabinet had outraged many Egyptians by presenting proposals for the new constitution that would have shielded the army’s budget from civilian oversight. The military had amended the proposals to give civilian powers more say, but not enough to prevent Friday’s protest.

After a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Silmi said: “We will not back down from the last proposed amendments to the constitutional document.”

As police fired round after round of tear gas at protesters near the Interior Ministry, closer to Tahrir the demonstrators laid sheets of metal to block roads into the square.

“I tell you, do not leave the square. This square will lead the way from now on,” presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a hardline Islamist, told a group of protesters early on Sunday.

“Tomorrow the whole of Egypt will follow your lead.”

During Saturday’s clashes, protesters broke chunks of cement from pavements and hurled them at police.

“We don’t expect anything from the military council. They will ignore us like what used to happen during Mubarak’s days,” said Abdallah Belal, a 21-year-old student in Tahrir.

The state news agency quoted the Health Ministry as saying 942 people had been wounded and two people had been killed.

It said a man, 23, was killed in Cairo by a gunshot to the chest and a man in Alexandria had a gunshot to the head.

A security official said police had not used live rounds and had used lawful methods to deal with “troublemakers.” The army stayed away from the fighting.

About 5,000 protesters had converged on Tahrir on Saturday afternoon when police tried to evict the remnants of a 50,000- strong demonstration a day earlier, mostly by Islamists demanding the departure of the military.

Police beat the protesters, most of them not Islamists, with batons and fired tear gas to regain control of the square, only to retreat after night fell.

Liberal groups are dismayed by the military trials of thousands of civilians and the army’s failure to scrap a hated emergency law. Islamists eyeing a strong showing in the next parliament suspect the army wants to curtail their influence.

Analysts say Islamists could win 40 percent of parliamentary seats, with a big portion going to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We are not political parties and we hate the Brotherhood who gave up on the revolution and the people,” Medhat Fawzy said. “We are Egyptian youth,” he said, flashing a victory sign.

The relatively liberal April 6 Youth movement said the interior minister should quit for ordering the use of force against a peaceful protest.

Friday’s rally appeared to be the biggest Islamist challenge to military rule since the largely secular uprising that toppled Mubarak. The demonstrators were mainly Brotherhood members and their harder-line Salafi rivals.

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