A 15-year-old boy is in critical condition and there are unconfirmed reports of another four casualties after Egyptian Central Security Forces (CSF) and army personnel stormed Tahrir Square in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as clashes raged on into their fifth consecutive day. The latest attacks follow a statement by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Monday in which it denied using excessive force against protesters and praised the “high levels of self restraint” exercised by military police.
At 3:30am, CSF troops and military units arrived at Omar Makram Mosque, located adjacent to Cairo’s flashpoint Tahrir Square, following a similar strategy as the night before, when two protesters were killed. Using batons, live ammunition and tear gas, the CSF pushed protesters from the mosque and nearby Kasr El-Aini Street. Security forces tore down a tent erected the day before, along with a banner depicting the female protester who had earlier been stripped and beaten by military police. Protesters also accused security forces of burning medical supplies and blankets.
Clashes between activists and police continued on the nearby Talaat Harb and Bab El-Louk streets and in front of the Nile-Ritz Carlton Hotel. Ahram Online witnessed several protesters attempting – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to speak to security forces. In contrast to yesterday's attacks, the army remained on the periphery of the square, allowing the CSF to do most of the fighting.
Last night also saw an escalation of violence by security forces using automatic weapons.
“The use of machine guns was unbelievable; it didn’t stop,” says Nazly, 28, a protester lightly injured in last month's clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. “We’ve become so accustomed to the shooting that we’ve stopped running. We’re no longer afraid of getting shot.”
Stone-throwing protesters faced off against police, who took the lead in attacking the square last night, successfully pushing the CSF back to Kasr El-Aini Street on several occasions.
Those in the square also reported the liberal use of live ammunition. “The bullet wounds were deeper and bigger than we usually see. I saw so many of these injuries,” said Nazly. “We treated them in makeshift field hospitals since ambulances refused to come to Tahrir.”
Yesterday evening, ambulances – usually stationed in the vicinity of Omar Makram Mosque and along Kasr El-Aini – moved to the area behind the Shepheard Hotel, a safe distance from the fighting. Panicked protesters called the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, a Cairo-based rights watchdog, and the health ministry to urge paramedics to return to the field.
The army remained near the mosque for the duration of the attacks. “I saw two men die from gunshot wounds,” said 21-year-old protester Lina, who spoke at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “I found bloody clothes and bullets and held them aloft, only metres from the army. I thought I could shame their conscience. I was wrong.”
Revolutionary groups convened two press conferences on Tuesday afternoon to condemn the violent behaviour of security forces and the SCAF.
Egyptian security forces have also faced a barrage foreign criticism. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described recent events as “shocking,” calling the behaviour of the security forces a “disgrace.”
During the recent clashes, the army appears to have fortified the improvised wall on Al-Sheikh Rihan Street, making it two concrete blocks wide.
At approximately 5:30am, security forces withdrew to the Omar Makram Mosque side of Tahrir Square. Sporadic bursts of gunfire could still be heard as limited clashes continued around the US Embassy in Cairo’s nearby Garden City district.
Hundreds are now participating in a woman’s protest march that started at 4pm on Tuesday in solidarity with female protesters who have been subjected to sexual assault and beatings at the hands of security forces.
There are fears among protesters that the movement may be losing public support, but morale in the square remains high nevertheless.
“Now we’re used to fighting a daily battle,” said 20-year-old protester and graffiti artist Mohammad. “The fact that we’ve held out this long against police and the army just shows how powerful we are.”