VIDEO: Egypt army builds wall near US embassy as protesters brace for Friday rally

Bel Trew, Ahram Online , Friday 14 Sep 2012

As street fighting continues near embassy overnight, Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Nour Party call for Friday protest against anti-Islam film, while warning followers against directing anger at innocent parties

US embassy
Egyptian army building a new concrete wall at Midan Simon Bolivar to block protesters from US embassy Cairo. (Photo: Ghazala Irshad)

Clashes between protesters and Egyptian Central Security Forces continued near the US embassy in Cairo's Garden City district into the early hours of Friday morning as demonstrators insisted on voicing their rage over a film produced in the US that mocks Islam and the Prophet Mohamed.

Members of the military have begun constructing a concrete barricade on a street leading to the American embassy in downtown Cairo, as fierce clashes between dozens of protesters and Egypt's security forces continued through Thursday night in the vicinity.

Two days into the fighting, which has left dozens injured, police continued to rein tear gas on protesters to stop them from accessing Latin American Street where the security barrier is being built.

Ahram Online reporter on the police side witnessed security forces apparently arresting demonstrators on Friday morning and in some cases heavily beating those dragged off to be detained.

During the night, hundreds of young men chanted against the police and called for people to "respect The Prophet", making reference to the recent anti-Islam film produced in America that sparked the initial protests at the US embassy on Tuesday.

Protesters armed with Molotov cocktails and rocks, pelted Egypt's security forces who responded with large amounts of tear gas flooding the area in plumes of smoke. Dozens of plain-clothed civilians with rudimentary weapons could be seen fighting alongside the security forces.

By midnight, numbers had dwindled but the fighting continued, with some Ultras (hardcore football fans) chants being heard, although it is not possible to confirm if the Ultras were there in an official capacity.  Protesters were repeatedly pushed back as far as Qasr Al-Nile bridge on one side and Qasr Al-Aini Street on the other, intermingling with the traffic.

As dawn approached, the central security forces, in a pincher movement charged at protesters from Qasr Al-Aini Street and via Omar Makrum Mosque, eventually occupying nearby Tahrir Square.

At this point military engineers bought a large crane and vehicle carrying concrete bocks to Latin America Street, which leads to the US embassy, and started to build the barrier.

The demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday when news of the film, entitled The Innocence of Muslims, reached the wider Egyptian public. The film, originally thought to have been made by US-based Coptic-Christian activists, was produced by Israeli-American filmmaker Sam Bacile.

The film, which explicitly degrades the Islamic faith and its symbols, sparked protests in several Muslim countries this week, including Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Iraq. During a protest on Tuesday in Benghazi, Libya, a simultaneous attack on a US consulate led to the death of four US diplomats, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

Ongoing demonstrations near the US embassy in Cairo, meanwhile, turned violent late on Wednesday following protests during which security forces appeared to avoid conflict. Thursday, by contrast, saw security forces firing teargas and shot-gun pellets in an effort to disperse the angry crowds. Exchanges of rocks and Molotov cocktails quickly ensued.

According to the latest health ministry figures, 224 protesters have been hurt so far, most of them sustaining minor injuries. According to official statement, only eight cases have been taken to hospital.

While clashes remain ongoing on the fringes of Cairo's Tahrir Square – near the now-iconic Omar Makram Mosque not far from the embassy – several groups condemned the violence, while also calling for a peaceful million-man rally on Friday.

Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Ahmed Hussein, for one, has backed calls for a Friday protest. The Brotherhood, he said, was calling for demonstrations in front of all major mosques throughout Egypt's provinces to condemn the assault on Islamic religious sentiment.

Abdel Rahman El-Barr, a member of the group's guidance bureau, had earlier denounced the attacks on the US embassy, which protesters managed to breach on Tuesday, spraying graffiti on the building's walls and burning the US flag that had been perched in its courtyard.

El-Barr said that Egyptians must protect the embassy premises, asserting that attacks on the embassy violated Islamic precepts.

Egypt's Salafist Nour Party, meanwhile, likewise condemned the ongoing embassy clashes. In a Thursday statement, the party said that it "strongly condemns using violence and vandalism to express our objections to this offensive work, especially if protesting involves attacking embassies and terrorising diplomatic missions."

Both groups called for resorting to legal action. The Nour Party called for prosecuting the filmmakers, while Muslim Brotherhood lawyers have already filed a lawsuit towards this end.

Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar, for his part, told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Thursday that efforts were currently underway by young Salafist and Brotherhood cadres to cordon the embassy grounds off from aggressive protesters.

Bakkar also said he had communicated with embassy officials with the aim of defusing the crisis.

Tareq El-Zomor, spokesman for Egypt's Gamaa Islamiya movement, had earlier described the removal of the embassy flag as "illegal and against Islamic Law." The group also declared its intention to participate in the planned Friday protest.

The offensive film has been criticised by a plethora of Egyptian public figures, parties and groups of different political backgrounds.  Egypt's prominent Al-Azhar, for its part, has called for "level-headedness" when dealing with attacks on Islam and its symbols, while warning Muslims against directing their anger towards innocent parties.  

Earlier on Thursday night, Egypt's security forces had retreated from Cairo's Simon Bolivar Square, which lies off the street that houses the embassy's main entrance. Nevertheless, torrents of teargas continued to greet the hundreds of protesters still hurling stones at Central Security Forces deployed around the embassy's precincts.  



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