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Protesters embark on “Determination Friday” amid increasing hostility with police

The mass protest planned for Friday, 8 July, has been preceded by several clashes across the country between the police and demonstrators

Sherif Tarek , Thursday 7 Jul 2011
Mariam Solayman
Mariam Solayman, a member of an Egyptian activist group, shouts anti-government slogans in front of a police cordon during a demonstration outside the press syndicate in central Cairo January 27, 2011 (Reuters)

As the buildup to the “Friday of Determination” created an electric atmosphere across Egypt, further calling into question the relation between citizens and the police, a crash course was held at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (an Egyptian law centre working in the field of human rights) giving demonstrators tips on how to deal with law enforcers who cross the line, whether on the streets, in police stations or at detention facilities.

“We don’t want to scare anyone, but it’s important for you to know your rights and what to do while dealing with police officers … some of them are mentally disturbed,” said one of the instructors, Malek Adly, a lawyer who has first-hand experience of police arrests.

Consisting of five workshops, co-sponsored by the Egyptian Centre of Economic and Social Rights, the course was attended by tens of activists who intend to take part in the highly-anticipated protests and occupy Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the January 25 Revolution, until that revolution's as yet unmet demands are “genuinely fulfilled”.

During the nearly four-hour course, instructors gave attendees wide-ranging tips that would come in handy while staging demonstrations or sit-ins. Useful instructions on how to remain healthy, hygienic and pro-active in the field were offered, as was professional advice for photographers and video-makers who will attend and document the event. But the excesses of the police remained the main focus.

Planned mass protests on previous Fridays were usually preceded by welcome decisions on the part of the Egyptian authorities, such as the arrest of former governmental officials, the freezing of their financial assets, or setting dates for their trials. Such steps mitigated public wrath on several occasions and kept the number of demonstrators to the minimum.

The reverse is the case ahead of Determination Friday, excluding last-gasp verdicts in referring 25 suspects in the infamous “Battle of the Camel” to a criminal court, releasing activist Loai Nagati and keeping the assets of former minister of interior Habib El-Adly and his family frozen.

The last two weeks witnessed many incidents that have markedly aggravated tensions and spurred many people to take to the streets with the aim of reigniting the uprising. Now protesters are prepared for the high possibility of locking horns with Central Security Forces, like many did lately.

Police-citizen brawls

Police brutality cases and police-citizen brawls over the past couple of weeks have bolstered the idea that the 18-day January-February revolt, which led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, needs an extension to bear fruit.

To begin with, altercations erupted late 28 June in front of the Ministry of ‎Interior as well as at the Balloon Theatre in Agouza, reportedly between martyrs’ ‎families and Central Security personnel. There are allegations — substantiated by photos and videos circulated on the internet and displayed by TV shows — that the police teamed up with thugs to wreak havoc in Downtown. In the late hours of the day, tents were again set up in Tahrir Square as protesters have started an impromptu sit-in.

“When you are filming, you have to take one of the two sides. If you stand in-between, there will be chance that you will be hit by protesters and the police as well,” Mostafa Bahgat, a professional video-maker, said during his workshop. “If you take the police side that would be great, because you will be able to get close shots on their excesses if there are any ... you always have to keep the camera steady,” he added.

Wednesday morning, 29 June, saw more bloody confrontations between thousands of ‎protesters and police forces, who bombarded them with tear‎gas for hours in another episode of pandemonium. Some enraged demonstrators attacked the Ministry of Interior headquarters, with over 1000 injured and numerous more infuriated in the large-scale scuffle. Most of the casualties suffered from teargas.

Speaking of which, Malek Mostafa, a Hisham Mubarak Law Centre activist, said: “It’s important not to panic when you see teargas canisters.” “Don’t run because that will make you inhale it more ... note that it will move in the same direction of the wind, just move calmly away and don’t kick the canisters towards other protesters,” he explained.   

The three days that followed Wednesday’s chaos were calm to some extent before mayhem once again broke ‎out Sunday at dusk after street peddlers allegedly assaulted some of the protesters. Around 200 people, including women, were reportedly injured in the free-for-all as both sides stoned ‎each other. The ‎perpetrators used bladed weapons and cudgels, and also set ablaze many of the tents.

No police forces appeared in the battlefield this time around; even so, ‎some people pointed a finger at the Ministry of Interior, saying the so-called vendors were actually thugs hired by the police, who “sought to disperse the crowd without taking the blame”.

Umm Ibrahim, a female street peddler, said the attackers were not street vendors at all, but people posing as such. Speaking to OnTV’s presenter Reem Maged over the phone, she asserted that the “real” peddlers were for the revolution and had nothing to do with the attack. Rather, the culprits were newcomers, whom Umm Ibrahim labeled as “unlikely-looking street vendors”. She said they all of a sudden started attacking protesters as they were trying to move the camp.

Thereafter, protesters, among them relatives of the January 25 Revolution martyrs, reset their camp on a smaller grassy area in front of the governmental administrative complex, known as the mugamma, leaving only a handful of tents in the larger, central part of the square.‎ The area witnessed no more violence. But controversial verdicts in legal cases added fuel to the fire.

Contentious verdicts

The next day, Suez’s criminal court decided to release police officers accused of killing ‎‎protesters in the coastal city during the January Revolution on LE10,000 bail. In a chaotic yet familiar scene, the families of the martyrs, angry at the court’s decision, attempted to break into the courthouse. They clashed with security personnel in ‎the ‎process.‎

The martyrs’ relatives along with their supporters then started a sit-in at Suez’s Arbaeen Square, with about 100 blocking off the Cairo-Suez desert road. Tamer ‎Radwan, brother of martyr Sherif Radwan, declared: “The law is over now and we need to ‎avenge the blood of the Suez martyrs.” “We knew well that this verdict would be issued, even before the session. The [accused] ‎officers knew it too,” he added. A group of Alexandrian activists also staged a sit-in at the Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in solidarity with their compatriots in Suez.

Other “provocative” verdicts were announced Tuesday as a Cairo criminal court found Anas El-Fiqi, former minister of information, and Youssef Boutros Ghali, ex-minister of finance, not guilty of misappropriation of state funds. It also found Ahmed El-Maghrabi, former minister of housing, and Adli Fadli, the CEO of the Akhbar Al-Youm media organization, not guilty of illegal profiteering. Moreover, former head of state TV Osama El-Sheikh was set free pending further investigation into charges of squandering public funds while buying TV series during Ramadan.

The public prosecutor lodged an appeal against the acquittal of the three former ministers. Meanwhile, another appeal against the release of policemen accused of killing demonstrators was turned down Wednesday, promoting a multitude of angry protesters to stone the police’s premises near the Suez courthouse in another citizen-police row to hit the headlines ahead of Determination Friday.

Some of the protesters tried to climb the walls in order to enter the building. Police personnel inside hurled rocks back and used teargas and firearms against the demonstrators who were chanting against the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the interim Essam Sharaf-led government, vowing to settle scores their own way and take revenge with their bare hands.

Dismissal of police leaders demanded

Apart from bona fide public trials for ex-regime oligarchs, freedom of the media and other pivotal demands, the sacking of all leading police figures who are held culpable for “insufficient security and police brutality” has been prioritised by many prospective Determination Friday participants, including the 6 April Youth Movement, which blacklisted 40 officers of different ranks that “have been holding their positions since the tenure of Mubarak”.

Others are calling on Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawi to step down. He was chanted against frequently in the last few days by protesters, who accused him of “applying the same dirty tactics and brutality of his predecessor, Habib El-Adly”. The latter is currently awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the killing of peaceful protesters during the January 25 Revolution.

El-Essawi pledged Wednesday to lead a reshuffle within the Interior Ministry that will see “the elimination of hundreds of generals” midway through July.

A number of political parties have announced their intention to take part in Determination Friday, including the Free Egyptians (El-Masryeen El-Ahrar), the Dignity Party (El-Karama), the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (El-Hezb El-Masry El-Egtemaie) and the Justice Party (El-Adl). The 6 April Youth Movement and the Revolution Youth Coalition are the most prominent among the political movements that have confirmed their participation.

Reversing an earlier decision, the powerful Islamic group the Muslim Brotherhood decided to participate in Determination Friday, also known as the "Second Rage Revolution". Nonetheless, they stressed that they will not spend the night in Tahrir Square. There has been debate among political forces whether or not to stage a sit-in at the end of the day.

The Salafis will also be protesting, while Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya stated that it would not.

Presidential hopeful Hisham El-Bastawisi will be demonstrating in Alexandria while Hamdeen Sabahi, another presidential bidder, has also encouraged people to go out and participate in the weekend’s demonstrations. 

Furthermore, big screen stars Khaled El-Sawy and Amr Waked confirmed that they will be demonstrating for “not feeling the gains of the revolt”. Both actors played tangible roles in the January 25 Revolution from the beginning.

There has been no unified list of demands that all political forces agree on, but there have been widespread calls to put differences aside during Determination Friday, and to avoid slogans that may result in disagreements, such as “Constitution first”.

“Tahrir Square is never the right place for political discussions and disagreements,” Malek Mostafa stated. “It’s the place where we protest, so just try to focus on the main demands and be united; side talks are never recommended.”

A week ago, thousands congregated in Tahrir Square ‎in response to invitations made by a number of political groups for a massive demonstration under the name of “Retribution Friday”. The same demands as Determination Friday were voiced.

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