Update: Prosecutor general forms team to investigate violence, sabotage in Friday demos

Update: Prosecutor general forms team to investigate violence, sabotage in Friday demos

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Fri, 25/01/2013 - 19:38

Two years ago today, Egyptians took to the streets to protest the oppressive regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, demanding bread, freedom and social justice. When protests began on 25 January 2011, there was no intention to topple Mubarak, but the demands quickly grew larger, snowballing over the 18 days of the revolution. The protests were organized over Facebook by youth with no political affiliations.

Today, Egyptians are taking to the streets again with the same demands. No one can predict the outcome of today’s protests, which will likely continue into tomorrow as the Ultras Ahlawy protest the verdict in the Port Said massacre trial due to be issued Saturday.

Protests were initially called for by the National Salvation Front, headed up by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent reform advocate and founder of the Constitution Party. The call to protest targeted the Muslim Brotherhood’s domination of politics. Opposition groups accuse the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party of replacing the now dissolved National Democratic Party — the former ruling party of the Mubarak regime.

After a day filled with clashes, attacks and the alleged storming of government buildings across the nation, Prosecutor General Talaat Abdallah ordered investigations into reported acts of violence and sabotage. Hassan Yassin, official spokesperson for the prosecution, said that a team of 15 prosecutors has been formed to investigate all reports submitted to the authorities.

Violent clashes erupted Friday evening on Mohamed Mahmoud Street after protesters hurled Molotov cocktails near the Interior Ministry, setting fire to part of a building adjacent to the ministry. Security forces intensified their barrage of tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters.

At the same time, dozens of protesters blocked the Corniche in front of Maspero, the state television building. Traffic was halted as protesters chanted slogans demanding the media, judiciary and Interior Ministry be purged of corruption.

The presence of security forces around the building intensified in anticipation of potential violence. They fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Several news outlets also reported that protesters blocked the metro system and were standing on the tracks, halting trains at Saad Zaghloul, Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Despite calls for peaceful protest, violence has punctuated the demonstrations throughout the day. Mohamed Sultan, head of Ambulance Authority, said Friday evening that at least 110 people were injured in today’s clashes across the country.

Magdy Abdel Atif, editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's Ikhwan Online website, alleged an unidentified group stormed the website's headquarters in downtown Cairo on Friday evening.

He claimed the attackers were "paid terrorists" who smashed all the computers and technical equipment in the office. The website team moved to another location to continue working.

Abdel Atif accused the Interior Ministry of negligence in their failure to protect the headquarters, although it was the object of a similar attack two days ago.

Earlier in the afternoon, unidentified assailants allegedly stationed on the roof of that same building where Ikwhan Online's office is located attacked the march from Shubra to Tahrir as it approached the square.

The assailants threw Molotov cocktails and stones down at the protesters. Some demonstrators were allegedly armed and responded with gunfire, while others reportedly retaliated by setting merchandise being sold by street vendors in the area ablaze, then preventing security forces from extinguishing the fire. Two protesters were reportedly injured in the altercations.

Minor clashes broke out on Friday morning between protesters and security forces at the intersection of Sheikh Rehan Street and Qasr al-Aini Street, state-run news agency MENA reported. Protesters hurled stones at security forces behind the concrete wall at Sheikh Rehan Street. Others tried to intervene to stop the clashes.

The clashes refueled in the afternoon. Eyewitnesses told Egypt Independent that police forces fired tear gas canisters at protesters from behind the wall on Qasr al-Aini Street, which the Armed Forces rebuilt on Thursday evening after protesters nearly succeeded in tearing it down.

"[Tear gas] canisters fly just over our heads; it's very strong," said 28-year-old protester Alaa Eddin Mostafa.

Kareem Abu Zaid, a 28-year-old teacher who joined the protests in Tahrir from a remote village in Minya, told Egypt Independent that “the revolution has been hijacked. We want to complete the revolution’s goals.”

“The situation is getting tougher under the Brotherhood's rule — unemployment is on the rise, and jobs are harder to find,” he continued.

The Health Ministry announced that at least four have been injured in the Sheikh Rehan clashes, while the Interior Ministry reported that at least six police officers were injured at the scene.

The stage for violence had been set when protesters clashed with security forces at the Qasr al-Aini entrance to Tahrir throughout the day on Thursday, injuring at least eight as the demonstrators tried to tear down the wall.

Aside from the clashes, major marches kicked off across Cairo and headed to Tahrir after Friday prayers early this afternoon. They began to arrive in the square around 4 pm.

Thousands coming from Al-Nour Mosque in Abbasseya poured into Tahrir chanting against the Brotherhood. Protesters told Al-Masry Al-Youm that they decided to participate because nothing had changed since the Brotherhood took the helm of the country.

In Mohandiseen, thousands of protesters met at Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque and began marching downtown. They chanted, "Down with the supreme guide's rule," "Shave your beard, show your disgrace, your face will look like Mubarak's." Other chants accused the Brotherhood of selling Sinai.

National Salvation Front members Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Hamzawy, Hamdeen Sabbahi, director Khaled Youssef and Yousry Nasrallah led the march. Sabbahi made a quick exit with his entourage, witnesses reported. Wael Ghoneim was also present.

During the march, ElBaradei told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Morsy must listen to protesters' demands, or leave office.

There has been no positive progress since Morsy assumed power six months ago, ElBaradei said, which is why today is an occasion for protests and not celebrations.

During the same march, Sabbahi said that the people want real social justice, warning that the state must understand that demand or suffer the consequences.

Sabbahi said that sacking the current prosecutor general is one of the protesters' main demands, as well as the dissolution of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil's Cabinet. The next demand could be bringing down the regime, he added.

Morsy has to carry out serious reforms before it is too late, including achieving justice for the martyrs of the revolution, drafting a new constitution and holding parliamentary elections under a neutral Cabinet, Sabbahi continued.

Several protesters in the march held flags for Sabbahi's Popular Current party, while others carried posters with pictures of iconic Egyptian women and the El-Setat logo, a symbol of women's rights.

Writer Mohamed al-Adl, a participant in the march, said that the protests are peaceful and are intended to bring down the regime. Morsy lost legitimacy after the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace sit-in was broken up by force, Adl argued.

Workers' rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, who joined the march from Imbaba to Tahrir, echoed Adl's contention that Morsy lost face when he allowed blood to be shed in the clashes at the presidential palace.

The revolution was meant to bring down an oppressive regime and build a new democratic state that would guarantee social justice — but Morsy has not achieved that, Ali said.

He called for the end of the new Brotherhood regime, saying: "Morsy … kept Mubarak's regime as it is, and has just substituted him with some Muslim Brotherhood members."

In addition to the Mohandiseen and Imbaba marches, three different demonstrations left from Sayeda Zeinab Mosque, Fatah Mosque in Ramses Square and Shubra Square. Protesters carried photographs of revolutionary martyrs.

Strong Egypt party head Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh joined the march from Istiqama Mosque in Giza to Tahrir after rumors circulated that he wouldn't participate. He gave a short speech to his supporters, and then left briefly due to fatigue.

"No party will succeed in dominating the Egyptian state; Egypt is bigger than any faction," he said, adding that those who took to the streets in January 2011 must protest today to see the demands of the revolution through.

The march from Istiqama Mosque had splintered into factions, with one group heading to the square while the other waited at the mosque for Abouel Fotouh to arrive.

The split came after some members of the Strong Egypt Party objected to other protesters' calls for bringing down the regime and Morsy's removal. Other protesters were angered when Abouel Fotouh was late for the march and decided to leave without him.

Doaa Abdel Hady, a member of the Strong Egypt Party's media committee, said Abouel Fotouh was late because he suffered back pain. Some party members decided to go ahead with the march and wait for him in Tahrir.

After a period of calm on Thursday night, protesters began gathering in the iconic square early Friday morning, demonstrating first in front of the Mugamma. They chanted, "The people want to bring down the regime," "I am not an infidel; I am not an atheist," "Down with the supreme guide rule," "We either bring their rights or die like them," "Oh president of the republic, where are your revolutionary promises?" and "Oh our homeland, revolt, we do not want a constitutional declaration."

Participants demanded retribution for the martyrs, retrials for those accused of responsibility for their deaths, purging the Interior Ministry of corruption, dismissing Qandil's Cabinet, dismissing Abdallah, redrafting the new Constitution, setting minimum and maximum wages and imposing price controls. Some protesters demanded the fall of the regime.

Political forces that announced participation in Friday's protests included the Constitution Party, Free Egyptians Party, Wafd Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the National Association for Change, the Kefaya movement, the Youth for Freedom and Justice movement, the Maspero Youth Union and the Union of Revolutionary Youth.

Protesters hung banners around the square emblazoned with their demands, such as: "No to the prosecutor general," "No to military trials," "Minimum wage rate," "Religion for God, homeland for all," "No to the Brotherhoodization of the state" and "Bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity."

Popular committees guarded entrances to the square, checking the IDs of all those entering Tahrir.

Street vendors were present en masse, hoping to earn considerable profits by selling drinks and food to the expected large number of protesters.

Islamist forces announced they would not take part in any protests Friday, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, Jama’a al-Islamiya and its Construction and Development Party, the Salafi Front and the Nour Party.

The Muslim Brotherhood announced they would celebrate the revolution by planting a large number of trees.

Edited translation from MENA