The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged clashes
More violence in Egypt

On Monday, I went to Alexandria for a rally by presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, and wrote this piece about it for The Daily Beast. I noted that:

Egyptians are excited, but there is also great confusion and anxiety. The upcoming elections are the final, fraught act of a muddled transition process that still threatens to unravel.

Now there are 12 dead in clashes between protesters and "thugs" in Abbaseya, near the Ministry of Defense; most presidential candidates have put their campaigns on hold; and two have visited the scene.

The conflict -- which escalated today -- started out as a sit-in by supporters of disqualified candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail; the protest was attacked by the usual difficult-to-define groups of "concerned citizens" (supported by army and police and incited by state media) and was then joined by revolutionary youth out of solidarity. 

Supporters take photos in front of Abul Fotouh's bus. Will they make it to the polls? (courtesy Tara Todras-Whitehill)

It's hard to overstate how fraught and chaotic this transitions process has become. Now we are seeing the same kind of destabilizing violence (warning: this is graphic) we witnessed ahead of the parliamentary elections last fall. 

How it all started

There has been much confused speculation about how the violence between families of martyrs, demonstrators and police started last Tuesday night (even as that violence takes on new twists and turns). The interview below (in Arabic) carried out with Magdy Iskander Saad, the father of a martyr, by the online independent journalism site huqook dot com, tells an extraordinary story that I haven't heard elsewhere in such detail. The families of martyrs, the man says, were summoned to a theatre in Giza on Tuesday--because the army wanted to hear why they were protesting all the time. When they got there, army officers said they wanted to honor them and their dead children. (Now I'm paraphrasing what he says..) A mother of a martyr said, politely: "What do you mean a party? We don't care about parties. We want justice for our children's blood. And that justice is the death penalty for Habib Al Adli and his officers and Mubarak who told him: take care of things." The woman got into an argument with an army officer; it escalated; and he hit her in the face. Her son intervened -- and has already been condemned to three years in jail by a military court. The martyrs' families ran off (tearing down a picture of Mubarak they noticed on the way) and it all took off from there. At least according to this testimony. 

Fighting again in Tahrir

A stencil of the martyr Mustafa Al Sawy. The 25-year-old lab technician was shot in the chest by police on Kasr El Nil bridge on January 28

Violent clashes between protesters (including families of martyrs) and the police broke last night in and around Tahrir Square and have continued into this morning, leaving hundreds injured. 

The spark appears to have been a memorial service for the families of martyr's at the Baloon Theatre in Agouza. People disrupted the ceremony (either the relatives of other martyrs, or people posing as them); a group marched to Tahrir, where they were met by riot police, tear gas and rubber bullets. Word spread, and activists and others joined the clashes with the police. 

This violence is the inevitable result of the lack of transparency and of momentum in the judicial proceedings against former regime figures and especially the police (something we talked about on the last Arabist podcast). The families of martyrs' were shut out of the last session of the Habib Al Adly (the former Minister of Interior) trial; they went wild when the trial was postponed again. Everyday I read and hear stories about police officers who are on trial (or should be) going back to work at their old posts; and about families being bribed or threatened ("We'll arrest your other son on drug charges") if they don't drop their cases. 

Now both Mubarak and Adli are scheduled to next appear in court on the second day of Ramadan. We all know that means a month-long postponement. And while justice drags out, the Ministry of Interior is in complete denial about the extent of its culture of abuse and the need for total reform. The police literally seem to hope that by sulking at home (and thereby showing people how necessary they are); and by making a lot of vague promises and handing out glossy brochures, they can teach people to appreciate them and rehabilitate their "image." But what they really want is their power back; they can't conceive of doing their job in any other way than with total impunity. They view the idea of accountability as undermining their prestige and authority. There is no sense of the moral authority that would come, eventually, from publicly cleaning house. 

I can't imagine the suffering of young men disabled for life or of families who have lost their children. I can't imagine being angry or brave or idealistic enough to be ready to die for an idea of justice, a vision of change. Every loss of human life and health is a tragedy, but we owe these losses--losses paid as the price for a great victory, a great hope--special respect. The uprising started because people were tired of being brutalized and humiliated. For me, justice for the martyrs, the injured and their families is the test of whether something has really changed. 

Which is why it is so important that some policemen at least be judged, publicly, for what they've done. The families of the dead and injured and the activist community (who in many cases come from quite different backgrounds) have come fully together in calling for justice. I don't think Egyptians are going to be satisfied with anything less.