On the #occupycabinet protests

I won’t recap here the events of this morning in which several protestors from the #occupycabinet sit-in on Magles al-Shaab St., where the prime minister’s office and parliament are located, were arrested, wounded and/or beaten. You can take a look at Aya Batrawy’s reporting for AP, excerpted at the end of this post, for context. Suffice to say that, from what appears to have been an accident (an activist entering the gardens of the parliament building to retrieve a football was arrested and mistreated) we now have a return to the kind of street warfare seen a few weeks ago on Mohammed Mahmoud St.

As you can see from the video above, which I shot this afternoono, it’s not quite as violent as that. But the battle is now blocking Qasr al-Aini St., one of Cairo’s major arteries, and has been stagnant for hours. No riot control police has been deployed, and you have a few hundred of protestors on one side vs. a few hundred plainclothes police and, possibly, some soldiers on the other. No decision has been taken all day to stop the violence, and those plainclothes police are engaged in the same rock-throwing and Motolov cocktail-throwing as the protestors. There does not seem to be any authority there, or chain of command, and my bet is that the SCAF are paralyzed about what to do. Send in Military Police or riot control police and you risk an escalation.

Of course, more protestors may join in tonight, and who knows how long this is going to last. There are no demands here, just anger at the police and army, and an absence of leadership on the government side. The new prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, could not enter his normal office and has set up shop at the Investment Authority. The Ministry of Interior is washing its hands of the whole thing, putting the blame squarely on Military Police. The army is nowhere to be seen, although SCAF head Field Marshall Tantawi has been reported to order that wounded protestors receive treatment. They’d been receiving treatment anyway at a field hospital set up by the usual volunteer doctors and nurses.

Who knows how things will turn out — I think it might peter out over the weekend — but these recurring crises are symptomatic of a deeper problem than police violence or a part of the protest movement that just wants to express anger. The behavior of police and army is appalling, they appear out of control and engaged in petty retaliation against the protestors while political and military leaders are absent. This is not state collapse, but those at the helm are asleep and the security services appear completely out of control. Why the hell are police and soldiers engaging in rock-throwing? Who is running this place? It's an abdication of authority and responsibility. Pathetic.

AP’s report, on WSJ.com:

CAIRO (AP) — Security forces stormed a protest camp outside Egypt’s Cabinet building, expelling demonstrators calling for an end to military rule, just as officials were counting votes Friday in the second round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

The clashes underlined simmering tensions between activists and security officers and threatened to ignite a new round of violence after two peaceful days of voting in an election considered the freest and fairest vote in the country’s modern history.

Clashes erupted as demonstrators were camped out in front of the Cabinet building, demanding that the country’s military rulers transfer power immediately to a civilian authority. The sit-in was in its third week.

One activist posted a photo online of a female protester beaten in the clashes, and others said they were briefly detained by military police. It was unclear how many protesters remain in military police custody.

The military took over after longtime President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular revolt in February. Rights groups and activists charge that the military is carrying on the practices of the old regime, including arresting and beating dissidents. Protesters at the Cabinet building said the clashes began Thursday evening after soldiers severely beat a young man who was taking part in the sit-in.

Hundreds of people rushed to join the protest after online video and photos showed people carrying the wounded man. The pictures showed his face and eyes bruised and swollen, his head wrapped in gauze and blood dripping from his nose.

Witnesses accused military police of snatching the man from near the sit-in and beating him inside parliament, near Cabinet headquarters. Then protesters threw rocks and firebombs at military police.

Activist Hussein Hammouda said the military responded by throwing rocks and aiming water cannons from inside the gates of the nearby parliament building.

“Tensions between the people and security officers is so enflamed that anything that happens just blows up. There is no trust between the two sides,” said Hammouda, who resigned from the police in 2005 to protest police practices.