Thousands of Protesters Challenge Police Crackdown in Egypt

Thousands of protesters came out into the streets of Cairo on Friday, to be met with concerted opposition from the security police, who kept them away from Maidan al-Tahrir (Liberation Square) with crowd control vehicles, police phalanxes, and barriers. People massed on bridges and overpasses beyond the grasp of the police below, and sometimes threw rocks down on police vehicles. Increasingly the protesters faced tear gas in such quantities that it covered the Egyptian capital with a low-lying fog.

I am watching on Aljazeera as undeterred crowds are carrying away checkpoint barriers, surrounding crowd-control vehicles and rocking them back and forth in hopes of toppling them. One man threw himself down the hatch of an armored vehicle and emerged with a pellet gun. AP says people on balconies were throwing down lemons and other things that people could use on their faces to counteract the tear gas.

Mohamed Elbaradei, the Nobel peace prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, showed up at the al-Istiqamah Mosque in Giza, and had to be pulled inside by the congregants to avoid a police charge. As it was, he was soaking wet from the spray of a water canon. He and his supporters, including the editor of the al-Dastur (Constitution) Newspaper, were thereafter more or less surrounded and trapped in the mosque. Those outside were allegedly beaten by police. Baradei condemned the violent repression of the protests and called for President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

BBC is reporting a full scale clash between 3,000 protesters in Suez and security forces in the center of that city.

There were also protests in Alexandria, Mansoura and other provincial cities.

Posted in Egypt | 17 Responses | Print |

17 Responses

  1. Obviously there’s a great temptation to draw comparisons with a case of Iran in 1979, which, at least at a superficial level, seems to evidence some similarities. Do the various grievances of the protesters on the street threaten to undermine the loyalties of the police and the military to the regime? What about the civil service etc: is there a possibility of a general strike if the protests leaders (whoever they may be at this confusing moment) decide to call for one? If the protests expand on either of these fronts, is Mubarak’s authority sufficiently consolidated at the center to avoid the classic revolutionary scenario whereby players or factions within the regime decide to cast their lot with opposition movement? And of course the big wild card here is the impact of the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to join the protests tomorrow, i.e. what overall role they might play in the demonstrations and whether their participation will bolster or undermine the legitimacy of the movement among the public at large.

  2. As a complete novice observing these events, I have a question. What is the chances that the protests will spread to other Sunni nations? In particular, I am interested in the possibility of the protests spreading to Saudi Arabia?

    • I’ve dropped off the intensive study of the Middle East (in English sources) that I had going on 30 years ago, however, Saudi Arabia is probably one of the Arab nations least likely to experience a popular revolt.

      Demographics is the first reason, there are 80 million Egyptians, all in a narrow river valley, and Egypt has been a center of commerce for millenia. There were only 8 million Saudis when I had piles of fresh Saudi planning documents all over my apartment, it must have grown since but they are scattered all over and the Saudis don’t like to record the number of guest workers, who now may be equal or greater than the actual Saudis?

      Second, the nature of economic and social change in the two nations. Egypt has benefited from the general growth of the last half-century, but is essentially on the familiar model of huge poor mass, a smaller commercial & professional class, and tiny elite. Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth essentially allowed them to pension off all the actual Saudis, with actual or notional jobs, or direct handouts to family elders, (and true princely status for all the scores of true princely families), so all Saudi citizens should be economically significantly above 90 or 95% of Egyptians.

  3. ‘Crowd control’ equipment all paid for and supplied by the US as price for making nice with Israel, the elephant in the room, and for unimpeded access to Suez Canal and Egypt’s airspace…

  4. The Corriere della Sera (Milan daily) has a guy on the ground (Davide Frattini) with a sat phone and an SMS app and is relaying events as they happen. Where’s the US press (what press, anyway?)

    Here’s the link.

    link to corriere.it

    Apparently Mubarek will address the nation.

    Go protestors, Mubarek dégage!

  5. It’s regrettable that so many people have ignored the events leading up to this crisis, including the Obama administration’s decision to cut support for NGOs and civil society.

    From the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, almost one year ago:

    President Mubarak’s recent surgery and hospitalization in Germany has awoken many Egyptians to the very real possibility of an imminent leadership change. These health concerns, along with the recent return to Egypt and potential candidacy of Mohamed ElBaradei, have sparked serious domestic debates over the future of the government. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government continues to take regressive steps away from political reform. On April 6, Egyptian police arrested dozens of activists protesting in Cairo on the two-year anniversary of a nationwide strike. A bill recently drafted by the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity threatens to wipe out independent civil society organizations. And in May the government is widely expected to renew its repressive emergency law.

    Against this backdrop, several shifts in the Obama administration’s approach to foreign assistance during its first year have sparked concern among supporters of democratization. Total bilateral funding for democracy and governance programming was reduced from approximately $50 million annually to only $20 million. Within this amount, the level of funding for civil society was cut disproportionately, from $32 million to only $7 million, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) adopted a policy of only funding those organizations officially registered and approved as NGOs by the Egyptian government. Moreover, the administration began negotiations on the possible establishment of an “endowment,” a fund advocated by the Egyptian government to remove Congressional oversight over future U.S. economic aid.

    link to carnegieendowment.org

  6. Mubarak appears to believe the police are being defeated by the protesters and al Jazeera reports suggest the same thing; whether or not soldiers will attack protesters now appears to be the key question.

    I can only wonder what could persuade a young soldier to fire on a crowd of his own people that might include his own family members…

  7. So the natural cynical question is: which US stooge (or not-stooge) will eventually hijack this eruption of the desire to be free? Freedom does not mix well with current and coming harder economic times. What do we know about the military leadership in Egypt?

  8. Biden hearts Mubarak:
    NewsHour host Jim Lehrer asked Biden if the time has “come for President Mubarak of Egypt to go?” Biden answered: “No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction that – to be more responsive to some… of the needs of the people out there.”

    “Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.””

    yup, the Obama Administration continues a well worn US tradition, supporting dictator and autocrats. Especially as long as they heart Israel.Remember Bush and Musharraf recently? With utmost respect, maybe it’s time to adjust your earlier analysis Prof Cole.

  9. Al-Jazeera has reported live from Cairo:
    1. Security police has disappeared from the streets of Cairo.
    2. Mubarak was supposed to address the nation more than 5 hours ago. Has not done so yet.
    3. Curfew has been imposed all over the country. Protesters are ignoring it.
    4. Army has been deployed on the streets of Cairo & other cities. Army have been welcomed by the protesters. Army is not firing on the protesters.
    5. Protesters are not burning cars or busses. They are not destroying public property.

    With all this, it appears that Mubarak is packing his suitcases to leave for Saudi Arabia or to be airlifted by American forces to a safe haven.

    Here goes another American lifetime friend like Shah of Iran.

  10. Last line of my previous comment shold be read as:

    Here goes another American lifetime “Dictator” friend like Shah of Iran.

  11. O Juan i went to Al-Roda is Forever! O it is of this place! Antinoopolis of Sheik Obaid of the Djinn! O never speak of this but i know the secret of Egypt’s glimmer! O man of the napoleons and piastres of the mahattat al-atr of Al-Roda am I! O it is from the 1870s and speaks of Orientalism of a bygone era! O let us not return to this! Egypt stand strong and free! Juan I am of your past and future!

  12. I copy the following from the article by John Leyne of BBC.

    “27 January 2011 Last updated at 09:28 ET
    Egypt protests: Can Mubarak be toppled?
    By Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

    The military, the West, and many powerful and rich people here have a big investment in keeping President Mubarak, or at least ensuring an orderly transition to another leader friendly to the West and to business.”

    It says it all. How west would like to keep Mubarak in power. The same west & western Media that complains about the Arab & Islamic world not to have Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Equal rights, Corruption, Education & so much more.
    One demonstrator brought an empty canister of tear gas to Al-Jazera TV reporter in Cairo & showed him, it was clearly marked “Made in America”. How the Arab masses kept in line by America.

    Democracy all over Islamic world is just not good for either America or the west. It always looks good when west complains that there is no democracy, but behind the scenes west does not want democracy.

    It is the height of hypocrisy.

    • At this very moment millions of Americans are supporting new bills in states like Arizona to strip citizenship from US-born children of illegal – and possibly legal – aliens.

      Why?

      Because they’re overwhelmingly likely to use their votes for the Democratic Party, and there won’t be enough white Republicans to offset them in the future. If they split their votes 50-50, you’d never have heard of the idea.

      So there’s what we mean by Arab democracy – only Arabs who act white deserve a voice in government.

  13. Dr Cole,
    I find this and Tunisia interesting in that the Army seems to be disassociating itself from the regime to a certain extent: Violent support for the politicians seemed to be limited to the police (would that this will be the case here)- the general rule seems to be, the police defend the regime, the military the physical country- unless of course the military are the regime. In these circumstances i.e. without the opposition of the military; have there been many cases where revolutionary movements have failed?

    I realize that the split between military and police is not a clean one (and becoming less so in these Untied States).

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