Egypt’s deputy PM slams Qena protesters, they respond by cutting railway lines again

Mahmoud El Dessouki, Thursday 21 Apr 2011

Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal sparked anger and a return to protests that block the important Lower - Upper rail line in Egypt after calling the demonstrators ‘uncivilised’

Families in Qena are protesting in front of the Qena governorate

Qena protesters block the railway crossing again after briefly opening it up yesterday. The demonstrators brought their protest to the rail lines again after a statement by Yehia El-Gamal, deputy prime minister infuriated them.

The protesters in Qena have been demonstrating since last week against what they see as a bad choice for appointment as their governor, Emad Shehata Michael. They now block the rail in reaction to El-Gamal’s statement, which dubbed the demonstrators as "uncivilised" in an interview with the Kuwaiti El-Rai channel.

Islamic preacher, Safwat Hegazi is reportedly trying to persuade some of the protesters by phone to re-open the crucial rail line that connects Upper and Lower Egypt.

Earlier in the week, El-Gamal also angered the protesters with a statement saying that Michael will not leave and that he had already started performing his duties.

The protesters accuse El-Gamal of being a part of the counter-revolution and that he is ignoring the Qena protesters the same way ousted former president Mubarak ignored the protestors in Tahrir Square during the January 25 revolution.

The protests in the Upper Egyptian city broke out on 14 April after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appointed Emad Shehata Michael as the new governor. Many were not happy with the choice because Shehata is a former police official with close ties to the rough Mubarak regime and because he is the second Copt to hold the post. As the protests escalated, they blocked both the eastern and western highways and camped on the railway tracks, completely stopping trains from entering the city.

Slowly Salafist groups seeped into the group, eventually dominating the demonstrations and started changing anti-Coptic slogans, which alienated and forced many of the Copts who had originally participated to withdraw.

Salafist cleric, Mohamed Hassan, and Safwat Hegazi went to Qena to convince the organisers to open the railway. After meeting with them, some protesters agreed to end the demonstrations, while others insisted that they won’t move until a new, civilian governor is appointed.

Now Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Qena say that El-Gamal’s statement will cause a dangerous escalation of the crisis in the governorate. They also claim that he was appointed by former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who was ousted by the revolution and, therefore, should not continue in Sharaf’s new, transitional government.

Mahmoud Youssef, member of the MB’s administrative office in Qena, said that the group had released a couple of statements saying that they support the demands of the people of Qena and their disapproval of Michael’s appointment. They stopped short, however, of supporting their halting of transportations, stating they disagree with blocking highways, camping on railway tracks and stopping the flow of trains from entering the city.

Youssef added that the MB does not reject Michael because of his Christian faith, but rather because of his history in the police force. Many protesters claim that Michael ordered the murder of protesters when he was appointed as assistant to Giza security during the revolution.

Furthermore, he states, the protesters now blocking the railway are not Salafists, but a cocktail of different Qena locals, which means, according to Youssef, that the situation is becoming more complicated.

Now the protesters are planning for a “Friday of Determination and Challenge,” tomorrow where they will insist that that Michael be ousted. They are planning to hold the Friday prayers in the streets rather than in the mosques.

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