How a peaceful demo degenerated into relentless violence

Wave of Mubarak supporters march into Cairo's Tahrir Square with charge led by dozen galloping horses and camels.

egypt riot mob 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
egypt riot mob 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO – On Wednesday morning, Tahrir Square was filled with thousands of peaceful demonstrators chanting and waving signs in what has been the typical scene in the downtown area for the past nine days, as demonstrators called for President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate resignation.
Around 2 p.m., however, a wave of Mubarak supporters marched into the square, the charge led by a dozen galloping horses and camels. The pro-government group carried giant posters with Mubarak’s face, tearing down anti- Mubarak banners that have decorated the square for the past three days.
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The scene in Tahrir Square was pure chaos as the shouting degenerated into relentless violence. Hundreds of people used metal poles to destroy the sidewalks and cement curb, using prayer rugs and plastic crates to carry rocks to the front of the clashes.
Others walked around with bottles of iodine and cotton to treat the wounded as they were rushed back toward the sides of the square. The square had been filled with elderly people, women, and families with small children, but as soon as the rocks started flying, many fled the square, hiding behind army tanks as men in suits threw stones at each other.
One lone man stood on top of an army truck between the two sides, waving his arms and an Egyptian flag, trying to get the two sides to stop the rockthrowing.
But his efforts only intensified the barrage of stones.
“Mubarak sent thieves and police officers!” demonstrators shouted at the foreign press over and over. “The supporters are the secret police, they are his gangsters!” Across the square, whenever the crowds identified a government supporter who had broken through, a crowd would surround and beat him. Al- Jazeera reported that a government supporter who was beaten by the crowds was found with a police ID on him.
“Freedom is not free, we will stay here and never back down,” said one student, with a cellphone in one hand and three rocks in the other.
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The army stood by and did nothing as the two groups of protesters approached each other. About an hour and a half into the violent clashes, the army set off a few canisters of tear gas, which did not deter the demonstrators.
“We’re just defending our rights,” said an anti-Mubarak demonstrator, adding that nobody had expected violence after more than 100,000 people peacefully demonstrated in the same square the previous day.
“You saw us, you were here, we have been peaceful for five days! Why did they have to come here?” he yelled.
The anti-Mubarak demonstrators succeeded in pushing the supporters toward the side streets of the square, before the supporters made a return siege by climbing up on the roofs of the buildings lining the streets and hurling large pieces of cement into the crowd.
“This is a civilian war,” said a man who worked at the US Embassy, as he ran toward the front of the clashes. “Mubarak is trying to be like Hitler. He’s a dictator, he’s really a tyrant.
What will America do for Egypt? The USA must make a decision!”