Tahrir Square tense as numbers swell, revolutionaries articulate demands

Sherif Tarek , Tuesday 22 Nov 2011

Protesters, security forces maintain tense standoff as political forces brace for ‎tomorrow's million-man march

Mohamed Mahmoud Street
More clashes in Mohamed Mahmoud Street this morning (Photo: Sherif Tarek)‎

Although prominent cleric Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen tried to mediate a truce between protesters and security ‎forces on Sunday, both sides nevertheless locked horns again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square ‎for the third consecutive day on Monday.

Calls for Egypt’s ruling military council to step down have ‎only grown louder, meanwhile, with a million-man march now slated for Tuesday. ‎

Shaheen said he had sat down with police commanders on Sunday and persuaded them to ‎release six demonstrators arrested during the last two days of ‎bloody confrontations. ‎ He also tried to persuade protesters and police to halt attacks on each other – but, ‎evidently, to no avail. ‎
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Thousands of protesters were in the square this morning, refusing ‎to leave the revolution’s epicentre. Some attempted to march to the ‎nearby interior ministry building, with security forces responding with teargas and gunfire.‎The numbers of protesters have been swelling since daybreak, reaching some 20,000 by early evening.

At one point, a group of young men met struck metal traffic signs with ‎wooden rods and stones at the entrance of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads to ‎the interior ministry building and which has witnessed the fiercest clashes since Saturday.‎

The recurrent clashes now resemble trench warfare, with multitudes ‎of protesters swarming towards the interior ministry before being pushed back by teargas-firing security forces. Gunfire continues to echo throughout ‎the area. ‎

Numerous demonstrators have suffered the effects of ‎teargas, including suffocation, with several being taken to ‎ambulances near the Mogamma, Cairo’s largest administrative building, and to ‎makeshift field hospitals.‎

Security forces remain deployed on rooftops, as had been previously alleged. ‎From these vantage points, teargas canisters rained down on ‎protesters who continued their back-and-forth attacks and retreats for several hours. Some of them set fire to tyres strewn in the street.‎

According to Reuters, the total death toll from the last three days of violence has reached at least 33, while the number of injured has been put at roughly 1500.‎


Despite the turmoil, revolutionary forces have begun to articulate their demands. A large banner hung in the square’s central island this morning reads, “The people want a civilian presidential council.‎”

Another banner reads, “Al-Azhar wants the end of military rule.” ‎The banner was hung by a handful of Al-Azhar scholars, but does not necessarily reflect the institution’s official ‎position.‎

‎“We’ve yet to officially come up with our list of demands, but, basically, we want a national salvation ‎government, the departure of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the release ‎of revolutionary detainees,” Khaled Abdel Hamid, a leading figure in the Revolution ‎Youth Coalition (RYC), told Ahram Online on Monday. ‎‎“I think these demands can be met if the varied political ‎forces unite and support those currently holding Tahrir.” ‎

The RYC, along with 37 other political parties and movements, have ‎announced plans to stage a million-man march in Tahrir Square on Tuesday ‎to reiterate these and other demands.

Ultras vendetta

Meanwhile, football fan groups, dubbed the “Ultras,” are outraged at the killing of some of their fellows by police during the clashes.‎

Vowing revenge on Sunday, they toured Tahrir Square bearing coffins of their murdered colleagues. “As some of us were killed, we will finish off some of theirs,” ‎one anonymous Ultra told Ahram Online on Sunday. ‎‎“And as they treated the bodies of our colleagues disrespectfully, so we will treat theirs.”‎

A widely circulated online video depicts a policeman dragging the body of a ‎young man, who appears to have just been killed. The body of the young man – believed to have been an Ultras ‎member – is eventually dumped on a trash pile.

On their official Facebook page, however, the Ultras Ahlawy – diehard fans of the Ahly football team – denied that any of their members had been killed in the clashes.

Egypt’s three major Ultras groups – Ultras Ahlawy, the White Knights and the ‎Yellow Dragons – all took part in the January revolution, with many at the forefront ‎of the bloody clashes between protesters and police forces.‎ In the nine months since, the Ultras’ relationship with police has deteriorated dramatically.‎

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