VIDEO: Civil disobedience calls spark demos, clashes in Egypt's Daqahliya

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 27 Feb 2013

Protesters are met with violence after calling for campaign of civil disobedience in Nile Delta city of Mansoura, while government employees seem to support their demands

Attempts by activists to bring the Egyptian city of Mansoura, capital of the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahliya, into an ongoing campaign of civil disobedience has led to two nights of intense clashes between police and protesters.

The area around Mansoura's governorate headquarters was hit with torrents of teargas fired by the police at protesters over the course of the past 48 hours.

The clashes have left dozens of protesters and several police officers injured since Monday.

Protesters also clashed with another group of citizens who they claimed were members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Mansoura saw a spate of major protests on the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution in January, in which protesters demonstrated against the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Mohamed Morsi hails.

Opposition protesters across Egypt accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of adopting Mubarak-era tactics to quell calls for achieving revolutionary goals. The anniversary protests quickly turned into clashes that left over 50 dead in several cities.

Protesters in Mansoura told Ahram Online that Brotherhood members were trying to abort their civil disobedience campaign. They say that local Brotherhood members had come to protect governorate employees from allegedly "violent" protesters.

"Brotherhood members came Monday while we were urging governorate employees to join the civil disobedience campaign and started the violence by beating two women," protester and Egyptian Popular Current member Mahmoud Abdel-Aleem told Ahram Online.

"After that, we clashed with them as security forces stood idly by."

Employees at the governor's office helped protesters drive off the attackers, Abdel-Aleem told Ahram Online on Tuesday.

After the attackers had fled the scene, he recounted, Central Security Forces (CSF) fired large amounts of teargas at the peaceful protesters. This led to clashes that lasted throughout the night.

Head of criminal investigations in Daqahliya Atef Mahran denied that police had unjustly attacked protesters. He told Ahram Online that security forces had only responded to attacks on the governorate building and had attempted to separate the clashing parties.

Government employees show signs of sympathy with protesters

Some employees interviewed by Ahram Online corroborated the protesters' accounts, saying they had seen "bearded men" – allegedly Brotherhood members – beat two female protesters attempting to engage them in conversation. This reportedly enraged protesters, sparking the ensuing clashes.

Governorate employees, although continuing to go to work, appear sympathetic to protesters' calls for civil disobedience .

As Ahram Online was interviewing protesters chanting against the government at the governorate headquarters, a sign bearing the word "Leave" was hung out of a window. The demand was directed at President Morsi.

Signs of solidarity with the protesters became increasingly apparent as employees finished their working day and stood among the protesters .

"Why did the Brotherhood come, to protect us?" governorate employee Ahmed Abdullah asked. "We don't need protection; the protesters are peaceful and if we needed protection we can protect ourselves."

Abdullah told Ahram Online that he had stood with the protesters during the clashes. He criticised the Morsi administration, saying: "They have brought nothing but murder and destruction to the country."

"They [the Brotherhood] are liars, while the president doesn't take a decision without rescinding it shortly afterward. Everyone has had it with them," Abdullah said.

An employee who refused to give her name told Ahram Online that "everyone is working" and that there was no strike or intention to join the civil disobedience campaign. Another employee, however, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said: "The governor isn't allowing us to leave our offices, but we're all supporting the calls for civil disobedience."

Governorate employee Ahmed Abu Dahab told Ahram Online that there had been a decision by the governor to eschew any form of solidarity with the protesters. The governor had said that anyone who went against the decision would risk being brought before a disciplinary board, said Abu Dahab.

His colleague Abdullah denied this, saying he had not received any memo to this effect, only to be interrupted by Abu Dahab, who said the governor's alleged decision had been given verbally.

Another employee leaving the building after working hours yelled to a group of nearby protesters, saying: "We're with you; just don't engage in acts of thuggery."

Asked why employees were still coming to work despite their alleged sympathies with protesters' calls, Abdullah said it came down to material reasons. "Employees are poor citizens," he said. "They can't afford not to work."

A forced campaign?

The Muslim Brotherhood's Daqahliya website reported that a group of "thugs" had prevented employees from entering the governorate building "by force."

A Brotherhood member quoted on the website said on Tuesday that Egyptians were mature enough to know the difference between peaceful protesters and thugs. He said that employees were going to work normally and didn't care about what "those thugs" were saying or doing.

"We didn't force anyone not to work; we only called on the employees to join us," protester Wesam El-Shahat told Ahram Online. "They lie in the media, saying we forcefully prevented the employees from entering the building, which isn't the case."

Waleed Abu Samra, a protester who says he is also a member of the National Salvation Front opposition group, said the civil disobedience campaign had been called for in Mansoura as a "last resort" to realise revolutionary demands for "bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity" – demands, he said, which were far from being achieved by the current government.

"The government is working on 'Brotherhoodising' the state; this is its primary concern. But this wasn't a demand raised in Tahrir Square during the 25 January revolution," Abu Samra said.

Abu Samra added that civil disobedience was the "final stage of peaceful political dissent." He insisted that protesters in Mansoura had not prevented anyone from working, since this would represent a violent act and thus – by definition – contradict the concept of civil disobedience.

Abu Samra said that, even though employees were still going to work, they were supporting the civil disobedience calls. He pointed to the employees peering out the governorate building's windows and asked: "Do they look like they're working?"

"We will continue," he added, removing barriers to traffic on a main road that had been put in place by some of the younger protesters, arguing that blocking the road forcefully contradicted their cause. The road was eventually opened to traffic.

Attempts to start a campaign of civil disobedience in Daqahliya were first launched following a similar campaign in Port Said.

A 26 January court verdict sentencing 21 Port Said residents to death led to clashes that left over 40 dead, mostly civilians, in the restive canal city. A curfew was subsequently declared on the city, which prompted citizens to defy it and launch a civil disobedience campaign that was partially answered by local residents.

In September of last year, a civil disobedience campaign was also launched in the village of Tahsin in the Daqahliya governorate to protest government neglect and deteriorating infrastructure.

On Sunday, hundreds went on strike and blocked the main roads in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla in the adjacent Gharbiya governorate as part of a similar campaign of civil disobedience.

"God willing, we'll have an even more organised civil disobedience drive than the one now going on in Port Said," El-Shahat said. 

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