A visit to the 'radical Islamist protest' at defence ministry

Monday 30 Apr 2012

Ahram Online visits the sit-in in front of the Ministry of Defence after deadly attacks on Saturday and Sunday, to get the first-hand story from the media-dubbed 'radical Islamist protest'

ministry of defense sit in
Banner reads: "Down with military rule" (Photo: Mai Shaheen)


At 6pm on Sunday evening, in front of Ain Shams University and the defence ministry in the Abbasiya neighbourhood of eastern Cairo, hundreds of protesters formed lines in preparation for the sunset Islamic prayers.

"Come pray with us," said one of the protesters to the refreshments seller.

"I'm busy," joked the cart-owner, as he dropped ice into large jugs of juice. 

The whole street is closed to traffic after the attack the night before. 

On Saturday evening, unknown assailants attacked a group of protesters – mostly supporters of disqualified Salafist presidential candidate, Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail. Many other protesters from revolutionary forces, and even the apolitical or non-aligned, have joined the protest in solidarity - especially after the attack. 

Protesters established checkpoints, although they were not checking identity cards. The first checkpoint is manned by mostly bearded and middle-aged men.

Once inside there are more people in jeans, younger women and men, students, housewives, government employees and many non-aligned Egyptians. There is a relaxed ambiance, after a very tense two nights of attacks on Saturday and Sunday. The second attack left more injured and answered no questions on the identity of the attackers. 

At the last checkpoint, in front of the Ministry of Defence, military troops stand facing protesters. Here, the atmosphere is more serious. Dozens of mostly young men and women chant: "Down with the military council," "Leave," and "We want a free government."

Here are the many familiar revolutionary faces of the influential April 6 Youth Movement, Kefaya, April Democratic Front and many independent activists, as well.

Among these is Shaimaa Khalil, 25 years old. She doesn't belong to any political party or movement, but joined the protest because she simply agrees with its demands.

"I join any protest or any group that raises the demand: 'down with the military regime,'" said Khalil, who was shot in her eye at the Mohammed Mahmoud Street protests last November, when police attacked protesters near Tahrir Square and the Ministry of Interior.

Khalil didn't think twice about joining the sit-in.

Roni Alfons, on the other hand, was not sure she wanted to join the sit-in - until the attack late Saturday night.

"It is one blood. Even if we are different in thought, I will not accept that the SCAF kills them," said Alfons, who also isn't a member of a political party.

The sit-in, which began two weeks ago in Tahrir Square, was held to protest the recent decision by Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) to eliminate Abu-Ismail from the presidential race following allegations that his late mother was a US citizen, which is a disqualifying factor, according to electoral rules.

Late Friday night protesters moved their sit-in to the defence ministry.

Since then, their demand has become primarily that Egypt's ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), leave power immediately.

Secondly, they are objecting to Article 28 of the constitutional declaration and the SPEC itself, which they accuse of forging the candidates' papers.

The list of demands also includes the sacking of the government and justice for martyrs.

For this reason, protesters from other revolutionary groups – including the Youth for Justice and Freedom, the Coalition of Revolutionary Forces, the Free Front for Peaceful Change and the Second Egyptian Revolution of Rage – all declared their solidarity with the sit-in's primary demand; namely, the departure of the ruling military council. 

Local media, complain the protesters, generally continue to ignore the sit-in. When they do mention the protesters, they portray them as a group of radical Islamists and supporters of the presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail. They were referred to in most local media as "Hazem's sons," an expression that annoys Esraa Emad, a student at the sit-in.

"We have always chanted against the military regime; why do you call us the sons and daughters of Hazem now, and why does the media lump all Islamists together? Only the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Call were against protests and chanting against SCAF," said Emad defending herself against the criticism by some activists and politicians that the majority of Islamists were not present in many of the previous protests, especially during clashes between revolutionaries and military and police forces, where dozens of unarmed Egyptians lost their lives or were injured. 

Ibrahim El-Wardani, assistant pharmacist and one of Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail's supporters, joined the sit-in two weeks ago. He says that he is not there for Abu-Ismail as a person, but rather to protest forgery and injustice.

"Nothing has been achieved since the revolution. Our slogan since 25 January has been 'bread, freedom, and justice.' Where is any of this?"

El-Wardani added that of all of the revolutions' demands, they are now down to one: an end to military regime and a hand-over to a civilian power.

He says flat out that: "I know it will not be achieved.

"Our second demand is that Article 28 of the constitutional declaration be cancelled, which allows the presidential elections committee to be the superpower in the elections."

El-Wardani has a clear vision and demands; however, others are in Abbasiya simply to show solidarity.

Take Mahmoud Abdullah of the April 6 Youth Movement, for example.

 "We joined the sit-in yesterday afternoon, before the attack. I think our unity adds to Egypt, but if we are divided, the SCAF will gain and we will get killed. The Salafists were with us in the Mohammed Mahmoud Street battle and [in front of] cabinet, in contrast to the Muslim Brotherhood, who sold us out," accused Abdullah. 

Activists are divided on that point, however.

Some think the same as Abdullah, while others believe that none of the Islamists (including Salafists) stood in unity with the revolutionaries in most of their battles against the SCAF. They accuse Islamists of only fighting battles that advance their own interests, either to gain seats in parliament or the fight for the presidential seat, where elections are to take place next month for the top post. 

Four people were killed and roughly 100 injured in Saturday's clashes outside the Egyptian defence ministry in Cairo's Abbasiya district, according to Mohamed Fotouh, head of the Tahrir Doctors' Association.

Volunteer doctors from the association set up a small field hospital in the area after the first clashes. The official health ministry statements later claimed that only one person was killed.

On Monday morning, more unidentified persons attacked protesters. Once more, the field hospital was busy treating more than 10 injured protesters. This time, too, the doctors and eyewitnesses told Ahram Online that birdshot was used by the attackers, who tried to prevent more people from joining the sit-in.

After a few hours, the area was calm again, with a big banner bridging the street in the background that reads: "May God bring down the military rule." It is not clear yet how long will the sit-in continue, or what might bring it to an end.




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