Egypt: mass protests
demand rights, justice
Army attacks workers’ freedom to organize
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
In one of the largest protests since the February ouster of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, tens of thousands of working people and youth rallied in Cairo April 8. The “Day of Trial and Cleansing”—the second Friday in a row that mass protests have returned to Tahrir Square—demanded prosecution of Mubarak and key figures in his regime, many of whom still hold office.
Other demands, some vividly emblazoned on banners, included cancellation of a proposed law banning demonstrations and strikes that create “an impediment or obstruction” of state institutions and prosecution of those responsible for killing hundreds of protesters in January and February.
“For the first time,” noted the New York Times, “Field Marshall Tantawi personally and publicly became the focus of the crowd’s ire as speakers called him a dictator and demanded that he resign.” Tantawi, defense minister under Mubarak for two decades, now heads the Supreme Military Council, the country’s ruling power. “Dictator, dictator, Tantawi is next,” was one of the chants.
“The military council is part and parcel of the corrupt regime,” Abdullah Ahmed, 45, one of the protesters, told the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
A coalition of youth groups that helped lead the protests earlier this year called “on Egyptians to return to Tahrir Square and stay until Mubarak and his followers are arrested and tried.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s call for its members to join the Friday action “came after two months in which the group was seen as working closely with military leaders,” noted Agence France-Presse. The day after the demonstration the Brotherhood praised the military for leading the transition to democracy and called on Egyptians to support the armed forces..
At around 3:00 a.m., the military tried to drive out protesters who had stayed in the square for the night. Troops beat demonstrators, lobbed tear gas, and fired live ammunition and rubber bullets. Two people were killed and dozens wounded. Another 42 were detained and interrogated for violating the nationwide 2:00 a.m.-5:00 a.m. curfew.
Protesters defended themselves, “forcing security forces back under a barrage of stones and setting fire to three of their vehicles,” reported the Times. Later that morning thousands again gathered in the square in defiance of the army, vowing to keep up the fight.
The following day Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf ordered the release of the 42 persons arrested. Seeking to smear demonstrators as agents of “counterrevolution,” the Supreme Military Council alleged the army assault was aimed at thugs of the former ruling party “conducting sabotage” in the square.
Meanwhile, strike actions are continuing. Workers at 14 power stations began a round of walkouts April 11 demanding dismissal of top ministry officials, reported Al Masry Al Youm. University students in Cairo and Fayoum are also keeping up their fight to remove senior administrative staff and to reduce tuition and textbook prices.
Egyptian prosecutors April 13 ordered a 15-day detention of Mubarak and his two son Alaa and Gamal for questioning. The move came after he sent television station al-Arabiya an audio message claiming he is a victim of a smear campaign and has no accounts or property abroad. Mubarak and his family, who are banned from leaving Egypt, currently reside in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.On April 11, a military tribunal sentenced Maikel Nabil, a 25-year-old blogger, to three years in prison on charges of spreading false information about the armed forces. Nabil described the military’s imprisonment and torture of activists. “The revolution until now has succeeded in getting rid of the dictator,” he wrote, “but the dictatorship is still there.” Hundreds of civilians have been brought before these tribunals over the last two months