Activists call for end to bloodshed as protesters blame police for clashes

Salma Shukrallah , Sunday 5 Feb 2012

MPs, Al-Azhar sheikhs and Egyptian mothers join forces to call for end to violence; Clashes subside Sunday evening although hundreds of protesters maintain presence near besieged interior ministry

Protesters hurl stones at CSF
Anti-military council protesters hurl stones at CSF on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, 5 February 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

After four days of on-again, off-again clashes, violence near Egypt’s interior ministry had largely subsided by mid-day Sunday. Nevertheless, hundreds of activists – chanting "Down with military rule!" and "Liars, liars!" – continued to demonstrate in front of three newly-built walls erected between police and protesters in downtown Cairo.

Hundreds of Egyptian mothers voiced similar demands as they marched to Egypt’s nearby parliament building on Sunday morning to press for an end to the bloodshed. "Stop killing our children!" they chanted. "Give us our country back!”

In the belief that security forces and the military bore responsibility for the ongoing violence in front of the interior ministry – and for last week’s football violence in Port Said that left 74 foot ball fans dead – mothers demanded an end to military rule and an immediate ceasefire between protesters and security forces.

Several participants in the women's march, including activist Ghada Shabandar and Egyptian Doctors Syndicate board member and activist Mona Mina, were finally allowed inside the parliament building. According to MP Mostafa El-Naggar, the women’s demands included an immediate ceasefire, the immediate transfer of power from the ruling military council to a civilian government, a radical overhaul of the interior ministry, and “retribution” for victims of the recent violence.

Female activists marched alongside several newly-elected MPs to the frontlines of the recent clashes. In an attempt to negotiate a truce between police and protesters, a delegation from the women’s march entered the interior ministry building at one point.

Shortly afterward at around 3pm, in front of the Omar Makram Mosque located near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hundreds set out for Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the site of ongoing violence, in hopes of convincing anti-government protesters to stand down. The demonstration eventually split into two, with some heading to Egypt’s nearby Supreme Court instead to demand the dismissal of the public prosecutor. Since no one has yet been held legally accountable for the death of unarmed protesters in the wake of last year’s Tahrir Square uprising, many accuse the public prosecutor of dragging his feet on the issue.

One demonstrator outside the Supreme Court, Amany El-Tombaly, a relative newcomer to political activism, said she had heard about the Omar Makram Mosque demonstration on Twitter from MP Mostafa El-Naggar. She says she came to Sunday’s protest because she “simply wanted the killing to stop.”

"Many of the protesters have left, but others remain there,” said El-Tombaly. “Some are very angry; they have probably lost loved ones."

Several sheikhs from Al-Azhar, who arrived at the scene of the battle along with marchers from Omar Makram, could be seen talking with protesters in an effort to convince them to leave. Many protesters, however, visibly frustrated, responded by saying that police were to blame for recent clashes and were themselves the ones who should be asked to exercise self restraint.

Many of those confronting the interior ministry’s Central Security Forces (CSF), meanwhile, continued chanting slogans against the police and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Activist Bahaa El-Kilany told Ahram Online that arrests were still being made despite the relative calm that prevailed early Sunday evening. El-Kilany said he saw several demonstrators being rounded up by plainclothes police.

These were hardly the first attempts to end the violence since hostilities erupted Thursday evening. While the situation remains tense, the number of demonstrators has decreased considerably over the course of the last three days. Police forces, meanwhile, have also withdrawn behind three concrete walls erected outside the interior ministry early Sunday morning.

The four days of clashes initially began when protesters marched on the ministry Thursday night, blaming police for the deaths of dozens of football fans – mostly “Ultras Ahlawy” – in last week’s Port Said violence. At least 73 people were killed last Wednesday night after rival fans clashed on the pitch following a match between local football teams Masry and Ahly. Government critics blamed the high death toll on insufficient security.

Many believe that last week’s violence had intentionally targeted the Ultras, who have played an increasingly high-profile role in Egypt’s post-revolution political scene and have supported activists’ calls for a swift end of military rule.  

According to the Egyptian health ministry, at least 12 people have been killed – five in Cairo and seven in Suez – and more than 1500 injured in the last four days of clashes.

As of print CSF are reengaging protesters with tear gas.

Short link: