Port Said: Egypt’s city of the dead

Ahram

Families of the condemned and those acquitted speak out after Port Said football massacre ruling sentences 21 to death and five to life in prison

“My brother wasn’t even at the game; he was watching the match from a nearby coffee house. His friends confirmed this but their testimonies were ignored,” claims Intesar, sister of 20-year-old student Fouad Ahmed El-Saby, one of 21 people from Port Said sentenced to death in the recent football killings trial. “There is no evidence linking my brother to the stadium.”

After Saturday’s verdict confirming the 21 executions and sentencing a further five people to life imprisonment for the killing of over 70 Cairo-based Ahly football fans in February 2012, Port Said, its residents say, is a city of mourning, a city condemned.

The air still stings from teargas absorbed into the rubble surrounding the gutted Security Directorate, the focal point of a bloody five-day battle between protesters and police ahead of the final verdict.

Police were ordered to withdraw from the city ahead of Saturday’s ruling in a bid to prevent further unrest, leaving the army to stand guard at the police headquarters. The city is full of tanks.

Mother of death sentence
Families of the condemned gather at Port Said’s Cheef cafe after Saturday’s verdict sentencing 21 to death (Photo: Bel Trew)
Relatives of the condemned, like Intesar, gather at Cheef café, an activist hangout.

They claim their loved ones are innocent, framed by flimsy or false evidence, as the government, not wanting to punish security officials, bows to pressure from the Cairo’s football fans (particularly the hardcore Ahly supporters, the Ultras Ahlawy) to find someone responsible.

The hum of the popular café is punctuated by angry shouts and sobs. It feels like a funeral as people try to console each other.

“My husband’s lawyers told him the best option was to turn himself in, as there was no evidence against him, so he did,” explains 25-year-old newly-wed Wafaa Mohamed, her veiled face in her hands.

Wafaa’s husband, Mohamed Mahmoud El-Boghadady, 26, a local tuk-tuk (rickshaw) driver, was caught on camera running across the pitch in an undershirt.

“The attorney-general let Mohamed go but he was summoned again when his name was mentioned by [TV sports presenters] Medhat Shalby and Ahmed Shobier; now he will be executed.”

Wafaa, wife of condemned man“I’m dying; even if his sentenced is reduced, he will get life,” Wafaa, wife of man condemned to death (Photo: Bel Trew)

“We only received this verdict because we are from Port Said,” adds Amr Nasr El-din, whose 18-year-old son, a military student, received a 10-year prison sentence.

Nasr El-din claims the witness who testified against his son never appeared in court and failed to recognise him when questioned during preliminary investigations.

They all claim there is a Cairo Ahly fan amongst the 21 sentenced to death, and that one of men facing execution left the match at half time to go to a wedding, which can be proved by the wedding video.

Port SaidMother of Ahmed, 15, weeps after he was sentenced to 5 years in jail (Photo: Bel Trew)

None of the stories professing innocence can be legally verified, however.

Lawyers close to the trial say the court has withheld the evidence and details of each case. Until the information is released, they say, it is impossible to comment on the record about the individuals involved. This indicates a lack of transparency surrounding the trial.

Even the much-hated Port Said police force admits there were problems with the investigation.

In an unusually frank interview at Port Said’s El-Sharq police station, where officers were holed up after being ordered off the streets and staging a strike, some policemen say they are against the verdict.

“It was chaos after the massacre. We didn’t know who to arrest, so we detained anyone at the stadium who had a criminal record and people we thought might be behind it,” says police officer Rahib Mohamed Atef. “We arrested hundreds, so there could be people on trial who are innocent.”

His commanding officer, the station’s deputy chief Mohamed El-Kady, says the subsequent orders by the Ministry of Interior to move the prisoners to different prisons are “evidence that the system is wrong.”

The striking policemen huddle around a TV set, cuddling their guns and protesting their innocence in relation to the massacre.

Acquitted prayThe exonerated pray at graves of protesters killed during recent clashes with police (Photo: Diaa Adel)

 Many of the acquitted, who were released from prison following the verdict, say they found out they had been charged from TV reports or when security forces turned up on their door steps and ransacked their homes.

In addition, some of those sentenced still have not been rounded up by the police.

Mahmoud*, one of the 21 facing the gallows, is currently a fugitive.

“I was sentenced to death in absentia; no one came to take me away and I knew if I entered the police station I would never come out again. If I had really had appeared in incriminating footage from the match they would have no problem recognising me and finding me,” Mahmoud says, adding that he has not been hiding – he continues his daily life, despite facing execution.

“I’m waiting for my lawyer to figure things out before I turn myself in. I’ve had the opportunity more than once to escape the country but chose to stay as fleeing would make me appear guilty.”

Mahmoud claims he was charged because he refused to disclose to the police the names of key members of Port Said’s Ultras, the Green Eagles.

Again with no access to the trial files, it is impossible to verify his story.

However, the very fact a man, who is supposedly a convicted murderer on death row, is conducting interviews in popular café a few minutes walk from the main police headquarters raises concerns about the way the authorities are handling the trial.

Mohamed El-Dosouky
“Port Said is the government’s scapegoat” Mohamed El-Desouky, with his 15-year-old son, after being acquitted (Photo: Diaa Adel)

 “We were never told anything by the police. Mohamed, my husband, was never arrested. I found out he was among the defendants from a TV channel. We called the channel afterwards and he ended up in court,” says Safaa Osman, 39, wife of Mohamed El-Desouky who helped manage security at the Port Said stadium and is one of the 28 exonerated on Saturday.

She hands around chocolates in her tiny dilapidated flat, where some of the acquitted are meeting before they go to the main Port Said cemetery to pray at the graves of protesters who died in recent clashes with security forces.

“It was such a mess, the judge actually asked Mohamed in the court room, are you a witness or a killer? Next thing I know he’s in prison for 13 months and I’m alone.”

Mohamed maintains that after the match, which he attended with his 16-year-old son, he went to the police station “to be an eye-witness to the atrocity.”

His wife tried to stop him. At some point during the confusion he ended up being listed as one of the defendants.

At the gravesides of slain protesters, the exonerated men highlight further issues with the way the authorities handled the case.

“They stripped us naked, beat us brutally and tortured us. I was afraid they would actually kill me,” says salesman Mohamed Nasr Malazy, 29, explaining he was eventually released from Tora prison in Cairo when the prosecution failed to find any proof of the charges against him.

“They even tortured a guy who was already injured and stopped giving us food and water,” adds Khaled Hussein Ahmed Sedik, a 33-year-old electrician, who explains how the witness who testified against him kept changing his story, which led to his release.

Khaled Sedik acquitted“They treated us appallingly in prison” Khaled Sedik, 33, acquitted Saturday (Photo: Bel Trew)

 Back at Cheef café, the human cost of the life sentences and death penalties for the relatives are clear.

“My life is ruined. My two-year-old daughter, as young as she is, keeps saying please God, save Daddy. She doesn’t understand,” says Wafaa.

One of her friends quietly points out that whether Wafaa’s husband is guilty or not, there is little hope of a positive future for the penniless widow of an executed convict in a conservative neighbourhood.

In another corner, Hosny Abdel-Moneim El-Khayat, who is partially blind, holds a picture of his 18-year-old son, Mohamed, who received a life sentence. Hosny, like the others, demands to see the evidence against his child.

“Mohamed’s mother is dying. If my mind wasn’t shielded by my religion, I would have attempted suicide already. They were taking people randomly. My son was arrested outside a shop. Twenty-five years in jail, even if he did commit the murder, is too much for a child.”

A woman behind Hosny interjects to say her son is even younger. Ahmed, she explains, is just 15 years old and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Nasr El-din, meanwhile, joins in, saying he fears a decade in Egypt’s notorious prison system will turn his son into a “thug.”

“He will never be the same person again, he has already lost his innocence, he says he doesn’t have a problem sleeping naked on the ground and peeing in front of his friends.”

Fouad condemned to deathFouad, 21, defendant sentenced to death, although his sister claims he was not at the match (Photo: Bel Trew)

There are a number of theories amongst the acquitted and the relatives of those charged concerning what happened on the night of the massacre.

The majority believe the violence was deliberately instigated by the police who they say failed to secure the Ahly stands as they normally do, ordered the lights be switched off and sealed the exits.

Some point to the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and its head, Field Marshall Tantawi. They say the massacre was a government-initiated attack against the highly-politicised Ultras Ahlawy, which, as Mahmoud points out, has a large, countrywide membership.

However, none of them believe Port Said residents were involved: a fact that those close to the case say cannot be true.

Many people in Port Said claim no weapons were used in the killing of the Ahly fans, instead they say the 74 perished in the ensuing stampedes. This view has been refuted by official forensic reports and Ultras Ahlawy eyewitness accounts, which document the presence of knives, sticks and machetes and people being thrown from the top of the stadium.

The only point that the football fans from Port Said and Cairo seem to largely agree on is that the military council, the authorities and the police are somehow involved, and that this is proved by the fact that only two of the nine security officials on trial were found guilty.

The 15-year jail sentence for former Port Said security chief Essam Samak, both Port Said and Cairo football fans say, is not long enough.

Nevertheless the two cities are becoming increasingly polarised. Ultras Ahlawy reportedly set fire to the Egyptian Football Association HQ and the capital’s Police Club, because the verdicts were not harsh enough.

Desperate to secure justice for their slain friends, Ultras Ahlawy celebrated when the death sentences were confirmed.

Dialogue between the two sides seems impossible.

If the 21 being hanged are included, the death toll in Port Said since the verdict was first announced matches the number of Cairo football fans who died in the initial tragedy.

With protests and subsequent clashes on the horizon in both grieving cities, further deaths are expected.

Due to the chaotic nature of the trial, many fear the truth may never be uncovered and, for both sides, justice will not be served.

The missing: Egypt’s political prisoners issue presses Morsi

Nationwide protests on Friday called for the release of Egypt’s prisoners of conscience; with thousands still missing and 600 facing trial for political activity, the battle for justice continues

Thousands took to the streets Friday in  protests calling for compensation and the release of revolutionaries imprisoned through military or civilian courts since last year’s popular uprising.

The demonstrations, set to take place in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, were initially called for by Efrag (‘Release’) Movement, an umbrella group working to free prisoners of conscience, together with the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign, Popular Socialist Alliance Party, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Social Democratic Party’s youth wing and the Egyptian Wave Party (a party established by the Muslim Brotherhood’s young cadres).

“The Friday marches are also putting pressure on the authorities to grant moral and financial compensation for the long-term effects on the political prisoners,” explains lawyer and activist Ragia Omran, who has represented many of the detainees.

Over 12,000 civilians have faced military trials since Mubarak’s resignation, a practice which is illegal under international human rights law and sees defendants summarily tried by military judges with little to no legal representation.

Military sentences are administered quickly, often on trumped-up charges. Nadia Hassan from No Military Trials for Civilians described one case where a trial took place in a kitchen, due the lack of court space.

Until May 2012, Egypt was under Emergency Law, which criminalised political protests, consequently hundreds of demonstrators have also been tried in civilian exceptional courts.

Although no new cases are being referred to these tribunals, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, founder of NGO Hisham Mubarak Law Centre explains, anyone who was tried before emergency law expired, continues to face trial in front of these courts.

The lack of transparency within Egypt’s different courts, prisons and police stations makes it hard for rights organisations to locate and track political prisoners.

Over a thousand people are still missing since the 18-day uprising. “The numbers that we have found is comparatively very small to the number of people unaccounted for,” says Amr Iman, a lawyer working with No Military Trials for Civilians to secure the release of detained activists, “Some we have found in the morgue, some in the prison but we still don’t know where the rest are.”

Hanlayhom (“We will find them”) initiative was launched earlier this month to find those who have disappeared at protests and at the hands of the security forces.

Revolutionary and human rights groups hoped for greater judicial transparency and the release of political prisoners following the appointment of a civilian president, particularly as Mohamed Morsi himself was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime in 2006 for his political activity.

Since assuming office, Morsi has set up a presidential “Civil Rights Protection” committee, to look into all cases of civilians detained by military authorities.

Members of the group include key revolutionary figure Seif El-Islam.

The committee’s reports led to Morsi’s recent wave of presidential pardons. Early in August, the president ordered the release of 572 citizens detained by military authorities since February last year.

“Morsi also released around 25 political prisoners imprisoned during Mubarak’s era,” explains Maha Maamoun from the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, “but these were largely considered to be Islamist jihadists, which has sparked some concerns about their release.”

After Ramadan, another 58 were released, including six from February protests against the state handling of the Port Said football disaster and well-known activist “Sambo” Mohamed Gad Al-Rab, who was arrested during the 28 June 2011 clashes with police on Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Although civil society groups welcomed the move, many criticised Morsi for not granting amnesty to those released.

“Their verdicts were suspended so they still have criminal charges against them,” explains Maamoun, “This means if they commit another ‘crime’ they will be back in jail, facing the combined punishments of the two verdicts.”

There is no distinction made between those prosecuted for criminal behaviour and those arrested for their political beliefs or activities.

The issue is further muddied by the fact that many political prisoners are facing non-political charges, which are sometimes false, such as possessing weapons or drugs, making it harder to identify them as prisoners of conscience.

“The presidential pardon simply decreased Sambo’s sentenced from five years to one year,” explains Iman, who is representing Al-Rab.

This, however, means Sambo retains his criminal record for life.

Ongoing financial worries is a problem political prisoners face as many not only lose their job whilst serving time in prison but also cannot find work following their release due to their criminal record.

This is one reason why activist groups are pressuring Morsi to grant reimbursement and amnesty.

Compensation for the emotional trauma suffered is also top of the list.

“The treatment of detainees is bad and political prisoners are often treated worse,” explains Iman.

Adel Ramandan, a legal officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) working with military trials victims, described what happened to his cousin Muaty Abu-Arab, one of the first protesters to be arrested during the revolution on 3 February, 2011.

Aside from the “usual torture package” of beatings, verbal humiliation and sporadic starvation, Ramadan explained, Abu-Arab witnessed some really extreme cases that “went beyond our ideas of torture.”

“People were covered in water and electrocuted, sometimes to death and thrown in the desert,” Ramadan said, relating his cousin’s experiences.

For Sambo, the “special” treatment of political prisoners came in the form of emotional abuse, in addition to the physical beatings.

“If someone sent him a letter the officers would destroy it in front of him,” Iman explains, “They’d taunt him by asking him if he thinks he’s a hero.”

Children are among the political detainees. “We know at least three minors who are currently in prison after facing military trial but we cannot find all of them,” explains Omran.

One such prisoner, Islam Harby, who was 15 years old when arrested last March by military police in the Moqattam district of Cairo, is still being held with adults 18 months later at Tora prison.

As it stands after the latest pardons, there are around 50 known political prisoners still in jail, Seif El-Islam explains, in addition most of those now facing trial for their political activity are in ordinary civilian criminal courts.

As far as the human rights groups can confirm, the majority of protesters detained during the 18 days and in the subsequent sit-ins on Tahrir Square early last year have been released.

In the last two days, the courts gave a verdict on protesters arrested on 9 September outside of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo during demonstrations against the murder of an Egyptian soldier. “There were 76 individuals in total, 74 got a year suspended prison sentence, so still live under threat of being jailed in the future,” Iman explains.

The majority detained following the Maspero clashes with the military on 9 October, which saw 27 protesters killed, have been released. “Only two from Maspero, who admitted to holding weapons when they were arrested, are still in prison,” says Omran.

The lawyers confirm that most of those arrested during this May’s military attack on a protest at the Ministry of Defence building in Cairo have also been released. On 4 May, the single largest wave of detentions in a post-revolution demonstration saw around 300 civilians hauled in front of military courts.

Iman, who represented the 16 women incarcerated, confirmed that all of them, bar one currently in jail, were given suspended sentences. Ragia Omran added that the majority of the others either received suspended or decreased sentences of between three to six months.

The biggest battle human rights advocates currently face is defending around 600 individuals still facing trial for their involvement in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and Cabinet clashes with security forces in November and December last year, explains Seif El-Islam.

The five-day clashes between protesters, military police and the central security forces were some of the bloodiest battles seen post-Mubarak’s ouster and resulted in the deaths of over 60 civilians.

The hearings, which are taking place in civilian criminal courts, have been postponed until 19 and 26 October. A decision is not expected any time soon.

The corruption of the Egyptian judiciary remains a problem often contributing to the incarceration of political prisoners.

“There were a number of high profile activists dragged in front of military courts last year like [blogger] Alaa Abdel-Fattah. The judicial system with all of its faces: military, civilian and administrative, needs to undergo a cleansing revolution,” Iman says.

Seif El-Islam agrees, It has been a systematic policy for the state to use the judicial system for its own means, often by promoting pro-regime judges.  Consequently majority of the state is still from the old regime.”

New legislation is needed to re-organise the court system, Seif El-Islam explains, and the most advisable way to do this is to wait for the newly elected parliament not to use the legislative authority of the president. Morsi’s recent assumption of this parliamentary power was denounced by many, who were uncomfortable with the executive authority holding such sweeping legislative powers.

“We need to re-establish our parliament, re-draft our constitution and put society on a democratic track in order to purge the judicial system, which will take at least five years,” Seif El-Islam concludes.

Nevertheless, the recent pardons of political prisoners indicate that Morsi is responding to the presidential committee reports. The fact that military court cases are being referred to civilian courts is also a constructive development, Seif El-Islam adds.

The appointment of celebrated reformed judge Mahmoud Mekki as Morsi’s vice-president was seen as an unexpected but positive step.

Ahmed Mekki, Morsi’s choice of justice minister, who has also been pushing for judicial reform was largely praised. Although he blotted his copybook on Tuesday when he announced that Morsi was considering controversial new emergency laws to combat “thuggery,” historically a charge laid against political activists to quell dissent.

Recent court cases against members of the media for “insulting the president”  and the Brotherhood have further stepped up fears of crackdowns on political expression.

“We hope Morsi will give dignity to Egyptians both in Egypt and abroad,” Omran concludes.”In the meantime, we will keep the pressure up until justice is served.”

Street artists paint ‘through’ SCAF walls, in protest

 

Cairo’s most popular revolutionary graffiti artists came together with members of the public Friday to protest against the seven downtown army-built barricades by painting murals on them.

Following the theme of “drawing through the walls” as graffiti artist Hossam Shukrallah told Ahram Online, each artist painted imagined spaces that broke through the barriers onto their concrete canvases.

“This is the first time many of us done something this size, freehand and with perspective,” explained Shukrallah to Ahram Online.

“It’s a huge project. There are seven walls to paint. The most important thing is that the initiative is happening even if we don’t finish it,” explained Salma El-Tarzi 33, a local resident and Egyptian filmmaker who was part of the team coordinating the event. As she spoke, she was retouching a stencilled car in her Cairo street scene on the Youssef El-Guindy Street wall.

This wall is one of seven now blocking central Cairo around the Ministry of Interior. They were built between November last year and February this year by the military, after bloody crackdowns by Egypt’s security forces on the protesters.

The barricades have had a significant impact on the area, creating a maze of dead cul-de-sacs in Cairo’s busiest district. Residents and local businesses suffered. The public steered clear of the flashpoint area.

However, as the streets became pedestrianised, the walls inspired an explosion of street art with protesters immediately decorating them with revolutionary slogans. Activists also started stencilling familiar campaign images for initiatives like Kazeboon (Liars), the political street cinema movement and the No To Military Trials for Civilians group.

You would also see V For Vendetta symbols, stencilled faces of the revolutionary martyrs and graffiti about the Port Said football disaster which saw the deaths of over 74 Ahly football fans when police didn’t intervene in post match clashes.

At the end of February, artists Ammar Abu Bakr and Alaa Awad painted an extraordinarily elaborate freehand mural along the wall of the American University of Cairo building on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Several hundred metres long, it depicts the faces of the slain Ahly football fans, pharaonic imagery including the Ancient Egyptian scales of justice and Egypt’s security forces as a long snake.

Local residents and activists met weeks ago to come up with an initiative to deal with the walls. Although groups had succeeded on bringing down the Mohamed Mahmoud Street wall on 1 February, the newer walls are fortified with iron rods.

“As we can’t pull the walls down we can deliver the message that there are no walls,  that the streets are open,” explained Mohamed El-Moshir, a well known graphic designer-cum-revolutionary street artist working on the Sheikh Rehan wall. El-Moshir headed up the Noon El-Niswah (the Arabic grammatical reference to the feminine form) feminist graffiti campaign and created many of the well-known revolutionary stickers.

The designs reflect the personality of each artist.

El-Tarzi’s plans for Youssef El-Guindy Street wall have used a mixture of stenciling and painting to create a stylized street scene. “The painting is political enough by itself, I don’t need to put in a direct political statement,” she explained.

Whereas Hossam Shukrallah, who created the Khalid Said graffiti on the Ministry of Interior building June last year, has painted the Palestinian Handala into his mural on the Fahmy street wall.

The Handala, created by Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali in the 1970s, is a symbol of the refugee children.

“If you saw any of the videos of Egypt during the year you would think it was Palestine: shooting in the streets, rocks and walls,” Shukrallah explained, “the Handala also reflects the idea of being occupied in your own country.”

Drawing the perspective on these 12ft walls is also difficult, particularly as there are few images with the correct angle of the streets. The teams of artists had to climb the walls and use tape to mark out the lines.

El-Moshir and Ammar Abu Bakr’s design on Sheikh Rehan Street is a continuation of the pavement, and buildings either side. They also included a stencilled picture of a man trying to save books from the neighbouring Egyptian Scientific Institute, which caught on fire during the December clashes with the army.

Protesters had set up human chains trying to rescue the books on the 17 December. However state media and the government blamed the demonstrators for the loss of thousands of books and used the event to defame the revolutionaries. “It will be a memory to the event,” added El-Moshir.

Other artists have taken a less literal view. “Zeft”, a well-known revolutionary street-artist, had already created a large rainbow with a silhouette of child and his dog sitting under it on the biggest wall, Mansour Street.

He returned on Friday to add more abstract hopeful imagery to the scene. Shapes of children play on a seesaw, a mother walks with her pram and birds fly in the “sky.” A man also offers a balloon to a girl, which is reminiscent of the British graffiti artist, Banksy’s creation “Balloon Girl” which Banksy famously painted on the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank, Palestine.

On Felaky Street, Abdul Rahman Magdy, 33, an art director who paints murals for a living inside buildings, was painting meta-graffiti.  Not a usually a revolutionary street artist, he heard about the initiative and wanted to join in.

“The design is two guys drawing graffiti on a graffitied wall which will be painted on to the Felaky wall,” he explained, “We’re not a country in war we shouldn’t have walls like his. The men will be painting the portholes of a boat, with sea and sky. The whole concept is hope.”

Friday also marked the anniversary of 9 March, when the military violently attacked a sit-in on Tahrir, and then detained, tortured and sexually assaulted protesters, including subjecting women to “virginity tests.” The walls are seen to many as part of the army brutality, particularly as they were all erected under heavy fire.  The graffiti was part of several initiatives organised on the anniversary to remember the day.

Many of the events had an artistic focus. Four activists wore huge 10ft puppets of key figures from the current military regime, like de facto leader Field Marshal Tantawi, and performed a show by the Egyptian museum.

“We originally made a puppet of Tantawi for January 25, 2012 march,” says Shukrallah, “We met a guy in Mostapha Mahmoud who is a puppet maker so we went to Fayoum with him and for three weeks we have been making these huge puppets.”

No To Military Trials for Civilians, after their march from Mostapha Mahmoud mosque to Tahrir, organised a visual protest. Activists held A3 size pieces of yellow card above their heads, and stood at the end of Mohamed Mahmoud Street in the formation of the Arabic word for ‘No’ (La), which is part of their logo and slogan.

Ramy Essam the revolutionary singer, who was detained and tortured on March 9 in the Egyptian Museum, closed the day by performing on Tahrir.  Ramy’s latest song is about the Mohamed Mahmoud Street wall.

“Graffiti is an important method of communicating your message on the streets to the people,” Essam explained, “Also through music. The songs other bands like Eskenderella and I sing are designed to encourage people to go back to the streets to fight for our rights. Music, Art, film it makes the people more brave. It delivers a message. Especially in a lull, Art is essential to the revolution.”

Walled in: SCAF’s concrete barricades

Several walls have been erected in the past four months, as Egypt’s Ministry of Interior seeks to wall itself in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recurrent street battles between police and protesters have led the interior ministry to literally wall itself in; Ahram Online maps the growth of these concrete curtains and the transformation of Cairo into a city of walls

24 November –  Mohamed Mahmoud Street wall

The five days of grueling clashes, which saw over 40 deaths, started after Egypt’s Central Security Forces (CSF) cleared the remnants of a Tahrir sit-in at 10.30am on 19 November. Angered by the disproportionate use of violence against the small group of protesters, most of whom were families of those martyred in the January 25 Revolution, crowds began to build up on the surrounding downtown streets. The police briefly retreated after minor scuffles, leaving behind a CSF truck which was torched. A few hours later, the CSF returned along Mohamed Mahmoud Street in armoured vehicles and the fighting began.

Tahrir was cleared violently twice, once by the police and again by the army, resulting in many deaths. As a result, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), feeling the pressure to produce problem-free elections, took the drastic action of building a wall between the police and the protesters on the flashpoint street. The wall, which was to become the template of the other seven built later, was a 12ft tall three-block high concrete barricade. Clerics from Al-Ahzar University formed human cordons in front of the wall to stop protesters taking it down.

The area in front of the wall became a danger zone for women on 25 November after French television journalist Caroline Sinz was attacked by a mob, dragged into Tahrir, stripped and sexually assaulted. The wall was eventually pulled down by protesters during the 2 February Ultras-led protests against the Ministry of Interior, police and the SCAF.

17 December – Qasr El-Aini Street wall

At the close of  the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes, protesters began a peaceful sit-in on Magles El-Shaab Street in front of the cabinet building, in protest at the SCAF’s appointment of Kamal El-Ganzouri as prime minister. On the evening of 15 December, security forces kidnapped Aboudi Ibrahim, 19, from the protest because he, reportedly, tried to retrieve a football from the People’s Assembly premises. When Aboudi was freed in the early hours of 16 December, it was clear he had been badly beaten. Angry protesters confronted the army, which resulted in the military clearing the sit-in later that morning, pushing protesters onto Qasr El-Aini Street. Members of the military and local civilians then began hurling large slabs of pavement, office equipment and even urine off the top of the nearby buildings onto the protesters below. The resulting clashes, which saw the military and the CSF use live ammunition and machine guns, lasted until 20 December, resulting in the deaths over 14 protesters.

The wall was built on Qasr El-Aini Street in order to block access to the parliament and cabinet buildings. The security forces started construction after the army violently cleared the square during the afternoon of 17 December – including burning all the tents in Tahrir and chasing protesters as far as Zamalek.  Clashes continued despite the wall, with protesters and the army exchanging rocks over the barricade. One protester took to dancing on the wall during the ongoing clashes.

19 December – Sheikh Rehan Street and Youssef El-Guindy walls

Early morning on 19 December, at around 3:30am, army officers and the CSF appeared at the Omar Makram mosque entrance to Tahrir. After storming the square and pulling down any remaining tents, the security forces used heavy gunfire and tear gas to keep protesters at bay whilst the third and fourth walls were built. One was constructed on Sheikh Rehan Street, parallel to Magles El-Shaab Street, and the other was on Youssef El-Guindy Street, just around the corner from Sheikh Rihan. These concrete block walls were built as a barricade between Tahrir and the side-street access to the interior ministry buildings, the home of the CSF, further to the east.

5 February – Fahmy Street, Mansour Street and El-Felaky Street walls

Mass rallies were called for Thursday, 2 February, following the Port Said football disaster which saw over 70 Ahly Ultras die. People blamed Egypt’s security forces for not intervening in the fight between rival supporters. The rallies convened in front of the interior ministry, the government department that controls the police, chanting against the ministry and the ruling military council, which the protesters held ultimately responsible.  The police first shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds at around 6:45pm, starting the five days of sporadic battles across the neighbouring streets.

On Sunday, at 3am, the military and police began to build three new walls on the streets leading to the ministry from Mohamed Mahmoud Street, effectively walling in the government building. As protesters attempted to stop the Mansour Street wall being constructed, the police began attacking from armoured vehicles.

By daylight, groups identifying themselves as local residents started to form human cordons in front of the walls, preventing people from getting too close, as the final barricade on El-Felaky Street was finished.  In the ensuing fighting, which saw over 12 protesters die, the frontline was pushed west to as far as Bab El-Louq Square and even Hoda Sharaawy, a residential street, due to the walls blocking off exits.

6 February – Noubar Street

The night of 5 February saw some of the fiercest attacks by the CSF. With the three walls on Fahmy, Mansour and Felaky in place, fighting was pushed west onto Bab El-Louq Square and into central downtown. Protesters documented excessive use of birdshot and tear gas as CSF trucks drove up and down the square firing at fleeing demonstrators.  By the early hours of 6 February, the CSF had started building a new wall on Noubar Street, parallel to the three other walls, finally sealing in the ministry. That evening an unidentified group of civilians, claiming to be locals from the Abdeen area, turned up at the Noubar Street wall with birdshot guns and, reportedly, a machinegun, and began attacking protesters. Two protesters died during these clashes which continued into the early hours of 7 February.

Egypt’s Interior Minister proven a liar: overwhelming evidence police fired birdshot at protesters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking before Egypt’s parliament Tuesday afternoon, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim denied allegations that Central Security Forces (CSF) had used shotguns loaded with birdshot to disperse crowds of anti-government protesters during the last five days of clashes near the interior ministry building in downtown Cairo.

Instead, Ibrahim blamed the escalation on unknown third parties firing from within the crowds, noting that several police officers had also been injured by birdshot. His statements contradicted earlier testimony by several injured protesters that police had used birdshot against them.

The birdshot injuries of prominent activist Salma Said, 26, have been circulated widely on the internet and by local media. Said’s mother, Mona Mina, a member of the board of Egypt’s doctors syndicate, confirmed that her daughter had been hit in the face, stomach and legs with over 100 birdshot pellets on Sunday.

“She was very lucky,” said Mina. “One of the pellets was only 4 millimetres from her eye. Although there is some bleeding on her eyeball, it will not affect her sight.”

Journalist Rasha Azab, who was with Said when the latter was shot near Mansour Street, described the attack: “A [CSF] armoured vehicle drove towards us firing birdshot. Salma and I fell to the ground as the shooting continued.

“The shooting went on for 15 seconds. I found Salma’s face covered in blood. The vehicle shot at us again,” she recounted. Azab went on to explain that, when people came to Said’s aid, those in the vehicle opened fire again – for a third time – at everyone present.

Field-hospital doctors at the scene confirmed that shotguns loaded with birdshot and tear gas had been heavily employed by police over the last five days. Sherif Hussein, a 32-year-old doctor at a makeshift clinic on Tahrir Street, told Ahram Online that the Bab Al-Louq field hospital had been forced to evacuate when police fired birdshot at both doctors and patients.

Abdul Zinaldin, 19, was wounded twice. “On Friday at around 6am, I was at the beginning of Mansour Street when an officer riding a CSF truck fired birdshot at me,” said Zinaldin. “Pellets hit my face, very close to my eye. I was also injured on Sunday in an alleyway between Mansour and Al-Felaky streets. I recognised the police officer from earlier that afternoon – he shot at me, putting ten pellets in my leg.”

Ahram Online talked to the graffiti artist and activist known as El-Moshir, who also said that the CSF had used birdshot.

“On Sunday, we saw a CSF vehicle coming out of the street, so we ran towards Al-Hamedeya market cafe [on Bab Al-Louq Street],” El-Moshir explained. “An officer on top of the vehicle fired several shots at about 40 of us. We were all wounded by shotgun fire. I got one birdshot pellet in my head, five in my leg and two in my back.”

Eye doctor Ranya Sobhi confirmed to Ahram Online that, by the end of Thursday, 2 February – the first day of the latest round of clashes – hospitals had already received 14 protesters suffering birdshot injuries to their eyes. “Police have to stop using this kind of ammunition,” Sobhi said.

These were not the first instances of police using birdshot to disperse crowds. Ahmed Harrara, a 31-year-old dentist, became a revolutionary icon after losing both eyes to birdshot, first on 28 January 2011 and again on 19 November.

There are also several documented cases of protesters dying since last year’s revolution due to the use of birdshot by police. On Monday, health ministry spokesman Hisham Shiha declared that, on the same day Said received her injuries, protester Ahmed Kenawy, 21, had succumbed to birdshot injuries to his neck and chest.

The interior minister stated in Tuesday’s parliamentary session, however, that several police officers had also been wounded by birdshot. He went on to claim that armed third parties hiding among protesters had been responsible.

A parliamentary investigation into the recent clashes confirmed that a police general had suffered an ocular explosion while seven police officers had also been recently injured by birdshot.

The committee nevertheless held the interior ministry responsible for the violence, citing several birdshot injuries among protesters, including five suffering eye injuries. Committee head Osama Yassin called for the ministry to be “purged of corruption.”

Many activists have called for the radical overhaul of the ministry and have blamed Egypt’s ruling military council for the escalating violence. Mona Mina, for her part, lodged a formal legal complaint against the interior minister and Field-Marshall Hussein Tantawi, alleging that both had used excessive force against protesters and that both had intentionally tried to kill her injured daughter.

One more protester dead as Egypt’s security forces build fourth wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As violent clashes erupted again between protesters and Egypt’s security forces in downtown Cairo on Sunday evening, there are reportedly over a hundred protesters injured and one death.

The Central Security Forces (CSF) used tear gas and birdshot to clear the surrounding streets of the Interior Ministry, after building a new wall on Noubar Street, bringing the number of walls surrounding the government building to four, since Saturday morning.

Deputy Health Minister Hisham Shiha confirmed Ahmed Kenawy, 21, died at dawn from birdshot wounds to his neck and chest. Shiha also stated that 72 injured people received treatment at the ministry’s hospital. The makeshift field hospitals in the area reported 171 injured protesters.

On Sunday afternoon, several political figures and activists, including the Sheikh from Tahrir-based Omar Makram mosque, marched to Mansour Street – the frontlines of the last five days of clashes – to broker a truce between the security forces and protesters. When the attempt failed, the clashes began again.

“We were on Noubar street at around 9:30pm, people were chanting ‘Egypt, Egypt’ when we saw the CSF start building a new wall,” said Abdul Zinaldin, 19, who was shot in the leg on Sunday night with pellets. “Around three trucks attacked us with kartoush [birdshot]. We ran to Fahmy Street, one truck followed. They were shooting tear gas and kartoush again into the side streets between Fahmy and Mansour.”

Security forces also tear-gassed and shot at demonstrators on Mohamed Mahmoud and El-Falaky Street and on Bab El-Louq Square nearby. Protesters responded with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

“Today is really bad, the worst we have seen the last five days,” said Sherif Hussein, 32, one of the doctors manning the Tahrir Street field hospital on the edge of the square. “Since 9pm we have seen a lot of rubber pellets wounds to the whole body, as well as unconscious people coming out of tear gas attacks. We’ve been receiving hundreds of injured.”

This makeshift medical centre received the bulk of the injuries after the Bab El-Louq field hospital was raided by the CSF. “It was tear gassed heavily from the start of the fighting, protesters were trying to protect the hospital so the police attacked it with birdshot,” explained Sherif.

The field hospitals in Mohamed Mahmoud and El-Felaky Streets were also allegedly attacked, with field doctors reporting that some of the medical staff and the injured had been arrested.

According to eyewitnesses the security forces then pushed the epicentre of the fighting onto Bab El-Louq Square.

Ahram Online saw CSF armoured vehicles repeatedly drive up and down the square and around the side streets firing rounds of pellets at fleeing protesters.

Well known activist Salma Said, 26, who was filming the violence at the time, was hospitalised after the attack, receiving over 30 pellets to her legs as well as her face and stomach.

Mohammed Abdalla, 16, a student, was with her when it happened.

“We were on Fahmy Street and the entrance to Bab El-Louq at around 11pm when the CSF truck attacked. I had hidden behind an electric box and was trying to get Salma to join me,” explained Abdalla.

“She was shot three times before she had a chance to take cover. First when she tried to hide. Then the truck turned around and shot at her again as she was lying inert on the ground.  When we went to rescue her, they shot at all of us for a third time.”

Abdalla said the officer was shooting from the top of the truck: “he was not just targeting those on the street but shooting directly at those on the pavement trying to hide, or those trying to move the injured.”

Ahram Online saw panicked crowds of demonstrators and the injured spill into the neighboring Hoda Sharawy Street and further into downtown Cairo, mixing in with Sunday evening shoppers and the traffic.

There were unconfirmed reports of Egypt’s security forces entering a flat on El-Felaky Street and confiscating video equipment because the owner was filming the violence on her mobile phone from her balcony, activists told Ahram Online.

Unrest escalated during the attacks. Unidentified groups in civilian clothing were present in the downtown area near Bab El-Louq Square shooting at onlookers and passer-bys on the ground.

An Ahram Online journalist was shot at by an unknown gunman on Hoda Sharawy Street parallel to Bab El-Louq Square at around midnight, during the clashes. Minutes before the attack, the reporter had seen one man receive a birdshot wound to his stomach by the same shooter.

Sporadic attacks from the CSF continued through the early morning.

“At 5:30am it had calmed down a bit. The CSF had moved to the end of El-Felaky Street and were shooting birdshot at anyone who was trying to get close,” explained Mahmoud Ahmed, 21 a protester at the scene. ”By midday Monday, the CSF were still present occasionally shooting at us.”

Since last Thursday thousands of angry protesters have been demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Interior over the security forces’ handing of events in Port Said’s football stadium that left 74 dead. Security forces are accused of masterminding the attacks or allowing the attacks to happen. The interior minister, in turn, accused the protesters of attempting to storm the ministry.