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MANSOURA — The violence in Mansoura had ebbed significantly Monday after the driver of the Central Security Forces truck that ran over and killed a resident there was imprisoned.
Mohamed Saad, a student, says the anti-regime protesters, who have been clashing with security forces in the area in the past week, were only seeking retribution for the martyr.
But early Tuesday, CSF personnel began protesting the detainment of their colleague, 32-year-old Mohamed Ismail Ali.
Low-ranking officers decided to go on strike, condemning President Mohamed Morsy and the Interior Ministry for putting them in the middle of a political battle brewing between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and their opposition.
Just after Friday prayers this past weekend, hundreds poured into the streets of Mansoura near the Daqahlia Governorate building. Until 2 am, they protested against Morsy and the government while demanding the fall of the regime and fighting back CSF advances.
The clashes marked a climax in what has been a week of growing unrest in the city.
What began as a small group of disgruntled youth venting their frustration against the government has since grown into a city-wide revolt stemming from economic grievances and broader discontent with Brotherhood rule as well as the security apparatus.
A new wave of protests
The wave of violent confrontations goes back to 25 February, when Brotherhood members violently attacked protesters taking part in a sit-in outside the governorate building.
Initially, the sit-in was meant to be a show of solidarity with the canal city of Port Said’s civil disobedience, the breadth of which has all but shut down the city. Mansoura activists planned to take similar action, but in an attempt to curb the growing calls, protesters say Brotherhood members took preemptive measures by attacking the sit-in.
The sit-in was initiated by a group called Shabab al-Midan, meaning “Youth of the Square.” Comprising no more than 20 members, the group is only known locally.
Shabab al-Midan has often been accused by local residents of being informers working for the security apparatus, but this has never been verified. Mansoura-based activist Mohamed Adel tells Egypt Independent that the group has always been starting clashes, ever since the days of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street violence of November 2011.
But the sit-in gained momentum due to Mansoura residents’ genuine grievances. One of the youth, who goes by the name Micho, says some employees in the governorate building encouraged protesters and promised to join their calls for civil disobedience.
Later on, microbus drivers joined the sit-in demanding the governor raise the fare to LE1 instead of 50 piasters, citing frequent fuel shortages in the city.
Opposition protesters who called for civil disobedience and chanted against the president and the Brotherhood clashed with pro-Morsy demonstrators. Protesters say no security forces were present when the sit-in was attacked, which in itself spurred the anger of demonstrators against the interior ministry. They also accuse the Brotherhood of inciting the group’s “militias” against them.
The ensuing violence left 12 injured, and from that day on, nightly clashes between protesters and CSF took on a kind of routine nature, only escalating as the week wore on.
A critical fatality
As clashes escalated Friday, activist and Mansoura resident Ahmed Ali says the sky was raining tear gas. He accuses security forces of not only attempting to forcibly disperse the demonstration, but also of seeking “revenge.”
Lawyer Ahmed Ramadan says the Interior Ministry used “aggressive force.”
“During the clashes, we used the Popular Current’s headquarters as a field hospital to treat injured protesters, and suddenly, we were surprised by the sound of a [tear gas] bomb just by the entrance of the building. The gas came into the apartment, and we were all suffocating,” he adds.
Those inside the building tried to leave, but security forces blocked the entrance and detained anyone who tried to exit or enter. They also reportedly confiscated medical supplies meant to be delivered to the field hospital.
In a phone call to ONtv satellite channel Friday, Daqahlia Governor Salah al-Maddawy denied rumors about the Mansoura clashes being violent, describing them as minor clashes that security forces had under control.
Later that night, the so-called minor clashes took an uglier turn, when one resident was killed.
Hossam Abdel Azim, a 35-year-old resident of Mansoura, was on his way to buy groceries from a nearby market, his father says, when a CSF vehicle ran him over amid the clashes.
Abdel Azim was transferred to Mansoura International Hospital, where he died a few hours later.
Just after noon Saturday, a protest march took off from the Mansoura University Faculty of Medicine en route to the hospital, where Abdel Azim’s body was kept. The forensics report said he died as a result of a “car accident.”
But Al-Masry Al-Youm quoted medical sources at Mansoura International Hospital as saying Saturday morning that Abdel Azim was killed after being run over by an armored police vehicle.
Aggrieved family, friends and activists took part in a silent funeral march, carrying Abdel Azim’s body around the city’s main streets while holding up banners and posters demanding revenge.
As the procession passed by the Mansoura prison, angry protesters threw stones at the police officers protecting the premises, who responded by firing bullets in the air.
After Abdel Azim’s body was buried, protesters returned to the governorate building, where chants of “down with Morsy” resounded.
Noticing that the gate of the Mansoura Security Directorate was left open, some tried to break in, but their advances were met with birdshot and tear gas. By the evening, the CSF broke into the opposition Popular Current office and detained most of those still inside.
Samir Waheed, a photographer for the privately owned newspaper Al-Watan, was seen being pushed out of the third-floor balcony to the ground, where he lay still until a group of activists managed to reach him and provide medical care.
The calm that prevailed for an hour and a half broke when the direction of the wind changed in favor of the demonstrators, prompting them to move toward the CSF line, where clashes flared up again until the early hours of the following day.
Reports put the total number of injuries at more than 150, including people who sustained birdshot injuries and some who went into a coma. At least 85 people have been detained and released since the beginning of the events.
At the heart of the impoverished neighborhood where Abdel Azim lived, Mohamed Mansour, a carpenter, says he is devastated by Abdel Azim’s brutal death.
“He was a nice neighbor, husband and friend,” Mansour says, adding that he would make sure those responsible are held accountable.
While activist Sara Osama says the situation is similar to previous aimless clashes, if the killing of Abdel Azim is forgotten, it would only encourage officers to commit even more “war crimes,” she says.
The violence continues
In response to Abdel Azim’s death, the April 6 Youth Movement condemned the clashes and called on the government to halt the excessive violence. The group held a small, impromptu protest outside the Daqahlia Police Station late Sunday.
About 25 activists at first pretended to be simply passing by the premises. Then, in a matter of seconds, they organized themselves into a line, holding up banners and posters with bull’s-eyes drawn on them.
Some threw plastic bags full of fake red blood on the pavement, while others walked to the entrance carrying a symbolic coffin.
The element of surprise caused the officers guarding the headquarters to react frantically, and the scene soon turned chaotic. Police trucks moved in and circled about randomly while the officers themselves tensely stood nearby. The protesters left soon after.
The new police director happened to be in a meeting with the media at the same time commenting on Abdel Azim’s death, saying police only react to protesters when they start attacking buildings or civilians.
Ayman al-Diasty, a leading activist in the April 6 Youth Movement, says their goal was to get the message to the new police chief.
“Although it lasted only about 10 minutes, its effect was clear. Samy al-Mehy, the new director of police in Daqahlia, initiated a truce between the protesters and the CSF.”
The violence and flaky security situation in Daqahlia render unknown the fate of the parliamentary elections slotted to begin in April. But the recent events in Mansoura reflect the city’s residents’ loss of support for the Brotherhood.
During the 2011 parliamentary elections, Islamists won five out of the eight seats in the constituency. Months later, the results of the presidential election brought former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq on top with almost 25 percent of the votes, followed by leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi. Morsy placed a close third.
During the December constitutional referendum, “yes” votes for the draft constitution drafted by a mostly Islamist assembly won, but with 52 percent, much less than politicians expected.
This article was updated from the original version.