Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
UPDATE: Military rulers in Egypt used more violence against protesters on Saturday, setting their shelters on fire and beating them viciously, according to The New York Times.
The latest developments in the country, which has been engulfed by widespread protests and military violence in recent weeks running up to national elections for a civilian government there, suggest that the military council may now be ignoring the requests of the civilian advisory council to work with protesters.
As the latest protest in Cairo entered its second day, Prime Minister Kamel Ganzouri denied that the military had used force, despite the fact that clashes between protesters and the military had left nine dead from gunshot wounds.
The military may be attempting to win more support from those who are tired of the uncertainty created by the weeks of protests and clashes with police. In many cases it wasn’t clear who was creating more chaos in Cairo and for what purpose. More from the Times:
“On Saturday morning, another parliamentary building adjacent to Tahrir Square burst into flames, although it was unclear who started the blaze. Firefighters guarded by rows of military police officers struggled for hours to put it out.
The military-led cabinet said in a statement that protesters had deliberately set fire to the building, which housed an archive of historical books and documents, while protesters said it had caught fire while under military control. The protesters had made heavy use of Molotov cocktails and set fire to a Transportation Ministry building the night before, although men atop the military-controlled office buildings were also seen hurling gasoline bombs.”
Update Nov. 24: The White House has definitively picked a side in the ongoing unrest in Egypt: that of the protesters.
The Obama administration said Friday that military rulers in that country needed to end violence against protesters and handover power to a civilian government as soon as possible.
According to The New York Times, the White House released a statement saying the following:
“The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.”
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for Monday, but a week of violent clashes between police and other security authorities and protesters has thrown the elections into question.
On Thursday, generals announced over state-controlled media that they would name a 78-year-old lieutenant of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. Former Prime Minister Kamel el-Ganzoury’s planned appointment has not been greeted well by protesters, who say the elder official is yet another sign of a military trying to maintain control over a new civilian government with the use of old politicians. Ganzoury ran the government over 20 years ago under Mubarak.
“For the second time, we are going to depend upon the old guard of Mubarak’s regime,” a protester in Tahrir Square told Reuters, according to the BBC. “Why do we not give chance for the young, instead of those people who are 80 years old?”
Tens of thousands of protesters, along with presidential candidates, remained in Tahrir after Friday prayers, many of them angered by the Military appointment. But not far away, Reuters reports a group of around 5,000 protested in support of military rule, criticizing Tahrir protesters as troublemakers.
Throwing its support behind protests may prove a difficult foreign policy move for the White House, according to The New York Times:
“The statement is a significant escalation of the international pressure on the generals because the United States is among the Egyptian military’s closest allies and biggest benefactors, contributing more than $1.3 billion a year in aid.
But speaking out against the military could be a risky bet for White House if the transition to democracy moves out of the hands of the military to less predictable civilian control.
The military is the most powerful institution in Egypt and a key supporter of the United States in a country where anti-American sentiment and Islamist political movements are surging.”
UPDATE Thursday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m.: Prominent Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy said she was sexually assaulted and beaten by the Egyptian police who held her for 12 hours. On Thursday night, she had posted on Twitter that she was arrested. When she got out, Eltahawy wrote she had been “subjected … to the worst sexual assault ever” after being held for “12 hours with Interior Ministry bastards and military intelligence combined … must go xray arms.” Later she posted a picture of both her arms in a cast.
“They hit me with their sticks on the arms and head. They sexually assaulted me, groping my breasts and putting their hands between my legs,” Eltahawy told the Associated Press. “For a moment I said ‘this is it. No one is around. I am finished.’”
UPDATE Thursday, Nov. 24 at 9:33 a.m.: Egyptian military leaders issued a rare apology on Thursday for the deaths of protesters involved in demonstrations. The violence broke out Saturday and has so far killed 39 people, according to Reuters. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it regretted “the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt's loyal sons” and offered compensation to the families of the dead.
The military continued to refuse to step down, though, saying that doing so would amount to a “betrayal” of the trust Egyptians put on them when Hosni Mubarak was toppled, reports the Associated Press. Even so, the “tone was completely different” from previous statements by military rulers, notes the BBC’s Jon Leyne. They not only offered an apology, the rulers “also appealed to Egyptians not to compare them with the former regime of Hosni Mubarak,” adds Leyne.
The military leaders also insisted parliamentary elections would go on as scheduled on Monday, despite pleas by Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy to push back the vote. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood and the United States are both pushing Egypt’s leaders to go ahead with the elections, writes the Washington Post. “Let me just say this: There will be no postponement in the election,” said Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen during a televised news conference.
Calm returned to Egypt Thursday following five days of violence thanks to what the New York Times describes as a “shaky informal truce” between protesters and riot police. Still, the demonstrators are refusing to leave Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
In a sign of how the increased upheaval is leading to concerns about continued economic stagnation in Egypt, Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s long-term foreign and local-currency sovereign credit ratings further into junk status to B+ from BB-, with a negative outlook.
Separately, a court has reportedly ordered the release of the three American students who had been arrested this week in the midst of the violence, reports the Associated Press. Officials claim the Americans, two of whom are 19 years old and the other is 21, were throwing firebombs at security forces during clashes with protesters.
UPDATE Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 1:39 p.m.: The violence between Egyptian protesters and the government's security forces continued Wednesday, highlighting the people's deep skepticism about military leaders' promises to hand over power earlier than scheduled and their vows to hold anyone who uses violence against citizens accountable for their actions.
The Washington Post reports that the violence briefly came to a halt during the afternoon when soldiers poured into Tahrir Square and replaced riot police, but then later reignited shortly before nightfall.
During the temporary lull the soldiers were able to use armored trucks to stop the clashes between protesters and police. CNN even saw police embracing and kissing demonstrates.
But not long after, some protesters reportedly redoubled their efforts, pelting police with rocks. Riot police responded with tear gas, and gunshots were fired as protesters ran from the police headquarters at the Interior Ministry and toward makeshift hospitals in the square. Although some soldiers attempted to stop police from shooting tear gas, they were outnumbered.
"The violence hasn’t stopped. Those are just words, and we’ve been listening to words for 30 years,” 31-year-old protester Dalal Dessouky, a flight attendant, said to the Post just before the clashes resumed.
CNN reports that since Friday, 312 people have been arrested, and the death toll has risen to 35. The Post adds that another 1,700 have been injured.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Egypt "to end the clearly excessive use of force," amid reports of police brutally beating subdued protesters, and even unarmed protesters being shot in the head.
The current unrest is the bloodiest since Egypt’s uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak from power. Egypt’s key parliamentary elections are scheduled to begin on Monday.
Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 12:05 p.m.: Egypt's military leadership announced via state media Tuesday that it will hand over power to a civilian government no later than July 1, 2012 -- a full year earlier than had been expected.
The Washington Post with more: "The pledge--announced by presidential hopeful Mohammed Salim al-Awaa after a meeting with the ruling generals--marks the biggest concession by the military leadership since anti-government protests began this weekend, mushrooming into a national revolt."
Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 10:07 a.m. The Egyptian protests show no signs of stopping as they enter their fourth day on Tuesday. The big news out of Cairo, at least for many U.S. papers, is that three Americans have been arrested for allegedly taking part in the violent demonstrations that threaten to delay next Monday's parliamentary elections.
The Washington Post reports that state-run television broadcast a video showing the three Americans "lined up against a wall, with identification cards from the American University in Cairo, credit cards and an Indiana driver’s license spread out on a table."
A university spokeswoman IDed two of the detained students as 21-year-old Luke Gates of Indiana University and 19-year-old Gregory Porter of Drexel University. The third student, who attends Georgetown University, was not identified because his parents had not yet been notified.
Monday, Nov. 21 at 4:26 p.m. State-run television reported Monday that every member of Egypt's caretaker government has submitted their resignations to the military leadership that appointed them, although the move appears unlikely to calm the ongoing protests in the nation's capital.
For one, the Washington Post notes, the military has not yet accepted the Cabinet members' offers to step down and, if history is any guide, they appear unlikely to do so anytime soon. Over the past few months, military leaders have repeatedly rejected the resignation of a number of government officials, including Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
The Associated Press reports from Cairo on the current state of the protests: "The crowds in Tahrir, which had grown to well over 10,000 after nightfall, broke out into cheers with the news of the Cabinet's move, chanting 'God is great.' But there was no sign the concession would break their determination to protest until the military steps down completely and hands over power to a civilian government."
Monday, Nov. 21 The violence in Egypt continued into a third day on Monday, further raising concerns about whether next week's national elections will be able to proceed as planned.
The New York Times sets the scene on the ground: "On Monday morning, the thoroughfares of downtown Cairo were littered with stones and other debris from the fighting. An apartment building near Tahrir Square was damaged by a fire sparked when a tear gas canister landed on a third-floor balcony, protesters said."
The Health Ministry announced that least 22 people have been killed over two days of clashes between armed security forces and demonstrators. Although in reality, the death toll could be much higher, the Washington Post reports: "More than 30 bodies were in the Cairo morgue on Monday, according to a morgue official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give out information."
Sunday, Nov. 20: Egyptian police and soldiers continue to clash violently with protesters in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Sunday, security forces set fire to tents that protesters had set up in the square on Friday, and fired on protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to the Associated Press, driving out several thousand.
But protesters, who have been skirmishing with military and city police in Cairo as well as Alexandria for two days now, were moving back into the square Sunday night. On Saturday, two protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded in cities around the country.
At the center of the conflict is a call by protesters for an end to military rule and a swift and complete transfer of power to a civilian government. Though an election is scheduled for November 28th, protesters have claimed that the military is attempting to exert control over the government and the country’s future constitution.
A clear explanation from The New York Times:
“After pledging to turn over power to civilians by September, the military has postponed the handover until after the ratification of a constitution and election of a president, sometime in 2013 or later. Then this month the military-led government put in writing a set of ground rules for a next constitution that would have given the military authority to intervene in civilian politics while protecting it from civilian oversight — setting off a firestorm.”
The weekend’s violence — police and protesters trading various projectiles, protesters setting fire to police vehicles while police set tents and other belongings in the square ablaze — is the worst since the February ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. One report just from Tahrir Square alone said that as many as 400 wounded demonstrators had been treated in a makeshift hospital set up in a nearby mosque.
The unrest appears to be a reaction to the military’s political posturing, which has at least temporarily seemed to unite two assumed political opponents: the country’s Islamist and Liberal parties. After an Islamist-organized rally in Tahrir Square on Friday, police attempted to drive out a small group of protesters who had stayed overnight in the square; the resulting violence brought a more diverse group of civilians into the streets in Cairo and other major cities.
“The generals said to us, ‘we are your partners,’ and we believed them,” Cairo resident Tarek Saaed told the Times. “Then the next day we find out they are partners with Mubarak.”
A military spokesman late Saturday accused demonstrators of starting the violence, and suggested outside influences like news organization Al Jazeera were stoking the political flames.
Meanwhile Al Jazeera’s live Egypt blog reports that in response increasing speculation that the military might try and delay elections in the wake of violence, Egypt’s Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood said such a move would be unacceptable.
Saturday Nov. 19 3:36 p.m.: Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Saturday, battling riot police in violence that had not been seen in the country since February’s massive protests.
The clashes were an apparent reaction to demands by the military for special powers and protections in the Egyptian government’s future constitution, according to The New York Times. A giant protest Friday turned to violence Saturday after riot police attempted to clear the square.
Protesters took aim at authorities and the military—both literally and figuratively—to air frustrations that civilian rule hadn’t yet been established nine months after former president Hosni Mubarak had stepped down. Molotov cocktails, rocks, and other makeshift weapons were hurled at police, who in turn used rubber bullets, tear gas, and even birdshot against protesters.
“We came because of the field marshal and the military government,” 37-year-old resident Ahmed Tamer told the Times. “They don’t want to turn over power to civilians. The army still has us by the neck and they don’t want to let go.”
Others worried that parliamentary elections, scheduled for Nov. 28, might be disrupted, or that the military would use the latest violence to try to again move elections.
Friday’s protest was organized by some of the country’s Islamist groups but appeared to draw a large and diverse crowd in the tens of thousands. Saturday, civilians poured back into the square after news spread that police had tried to clear peaceful protesters from the area with tear gas. Many blamed police and the military for starting the trouble.
“Violence breeds violence,” protester Sahar Abdel-Mohsen told the Associated Press, after news on Twitter brought him to protests. “We are tired of this and we are not leaving the square.”
NPR reports that in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster and in the run-up to elections, Islamist parties have multiplied. That concerns those who saw Egypt’s recent revolution and the larger Arab Spring as a possible way toward greater democracy in the region. From NPR:
Most of Egypt's Islamist parties were recognized by the military rulers and permitted to field candidates in the upcoming elections.
Among them are the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, which carried out dozens of terrorist attacks in Egypt in the1990s before its leaders renounced violence. There are also several Salafi parties, whose members shunned pro-democracy demonstrations and elections during the three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February.
Earlier this week, an Egyptian activist posed naked on her blog and sparked the outrage of conservative elements in the mostly-Muslim country. Liberals there are worried that contrary to her aim, the 20-year-old may hurt the party’s chances against the Islamists in the election.
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy told CNN: "I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman."