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Ongoing clashes between protesters and police around Tahrir Square have elicited outrage among politicians, who accuse the Interior Ministry of reviving the “oppressive” methods of Mubarak’s times. Politicians and analysts point to the clashes as evidence of the need for further and faster reform within the government.
“What happened is unacceptable under any circumstances and reminds us of practices that we thought had ended,” said Shahir Georges, a co-founder of the liberal Egypt Freedom Party, which has yet to be officially established. “The excessive use of force proves that the police apparatus is still adopting the same oppressive measures.”
There are conflicting accounts on how clashes erupted last night. One narrative suggests that the fighting began after several people were arrested from among a group of relatives of Egypt’s revolutionary martyrs. Fifteen people were arrested as the relatives protested at the Balloon Theater in the Agouza district, after which the group decided to march on the Interior Ministry, close to Tahrir Square, where a further 20 were arrested.
As these later arrests were made, protesters clashed with Central Security Forces (CSF). Street battles raged overnight and have continued intermittently throughout the afternoon and early evening. At least 1,000 people have been injured so far, according to Ministry of Health reports.
While protesters threw stones and molotov cocktails, the CSF deployed tear gas canisters.
In a statement posted on its official Facebook page, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said that the incidents come as a manifestation of plots aiming at “shaking Egypt’s security and stability.” Plotters are using “the blood of the revolution’s martyrs to drive wedges between the people and the security establishment,” the military’s statement said.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is expected to deliver a speech commenting on the matter.
The culture minister blamed the remnants of Mubarak’s regime for instigating violence at the theater. Others are drawing links between clashes and Tuesday’s court verdict that dissolved municipal councils, the last holdout of Mubarak’s former National Democratic Party members. Sacked local leaders are suspected by some of fomenting the violence in revenge. None of these reports have been confirmed.
“Remnants of the regime could have been inciting this to cause trouble between the people and the police, but their attempts would not have succeeded if the people had not been angry at the laxity in trying those suspected of killing protesters,” added Georges.
Victims’ families have complained about the slow pace of trials of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and his aides, who are accused of ordering the killing of at least 800 people during the 18-day uprising that culminated in Mubarak’s ouster.
Earlier this week, clashes erupted between victims’ families and the CSF in front of the New Cairo Criminal Court after the trial of Adly and six of his aides was postponed to 25 July.
“The main problem lies in the existence of the CSF. This apparatus is not acceptable anymore and should be dissolved like the State Security apparatus,” said Amr Gharbeia, a human rights activist with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
For decades, the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) and the CSF served as two of Mubarak’s main organs of oppression. In March, protesters marched on several SSIS buildings and broke in, dismantling the legacy of a notorious police agency. Later on, the interior minister announced the dissolution of SSIS and the creation of new agency named the National Security Agency (NSA).
“The CSF should not remain after the revolution. We have 12 million people who went onto the streets rebelling against the CSF, which was the primary tool used to crush protesters in the past,” added Gharbeia.
The violence has provoked different reactions from some potential presidential candidates.
On his Twitter page, Mohamed ElBaradei called on Egypt’s military rulers to demystify the circumstances of the incident and explain why police forces used violence against protesters.
Amr Moussa wrote on Twitter: “I call on everyone to protect Egypt’s stability, prestige and revolution. Finally, martyrs’ blood should not go in vain.”
Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh condemned police treatment of protesters and demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawi, accusing him of failing to restore order, mistreating protesters and fomenting thuggery, according to a statement emailed to journalists.
The Muslim Brotherhood has not issued an official statement, because, according to Mahmoud Hussein, the group’s secretary general, the details of the incident remain unclear.
“We want an investigation into the incident so that those responsible are brought to justice no matter what positions they hold,” Hussein told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Other Islamist political groups such as the Salafi’s Nour Party and Jama'a al-Islamiya remained silent about the clashes.
A group of would-be political parties, human rights groups and youth-led coalitions issued a statement demanding quick and public trials of policemen implicated in killing protesters, the sacking the head of the Cairo police division, and the Interior Ministry spokesman Mostafa Marawan, as well as officers implicated in the killing of the revolution’s martyrs. The statement also demanded that victims’ families be protected and honored, and that the state cover all medical expenses of the injured.
According to Waheed Abdel Meguid, an expert with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, last night's clashes attest to the failure of the interim cabinet to properly administer the transitional phase.
“This cabinet does not do anything. It has no plan, no program and nobody knows what it is doing,” said Abdel Meguid. “It has to be reshuffled and should have precise duties to fulfill until the elections are held.”
In early March, the SCAF appointed Sharaf, a low-profile transportation minister under Mubarak, as prime minister in the interim cabinet. His appointment was welcomed by many political forces given his outspoken support of the revolution and his participation in the 18-day uprising. Yet, his cabinet has recently come under harsh criticism, largely for its failure to restore public order.
Georges prefers not to talk about dismissing cabinet members until they fail to meet three demands: investigating the use of violence against protesters in Tahrir, expediting trials of Mubarak’s men, and taking immediate steps to restructure the police apparatus.
On the last demand, Abdel Meguid believes only an elected government with a legitimate mandate can embark on an overhaul of the police apparatus.
“We need to hold elections soon so that we can get an elected government with a real mandate to make tough and brave decisions; on top of which is the complete restructuring of the police apparatus,” he said. “The existing apparatus can only handle things either by beating people up or withdrawing completely. This means that the apparatus is not valid and should be revamped.”
Many parties have been calling for the postponement of parliamentary elections in order to provide enough time to consolidate their support base. However, the military reaffirmed yesterday that they will hold elections in September as scheduled.