Morsi’s counterpunch: A reading of Egypt latest Constitutional Declaration

President Morsi with SCAF leaders (Photo: Reuters)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a move that shocked the nation, President Mohamed Morsi cancelled the contentious military-authored addendum to the Constitutional Declaration Sunday afternoon and rewrote the amendments, effectively awarding himself legislative authorities and powers over Egypt’s constitution-writing body.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had sparked mass uproar when it dissolved Egypt’s parliament and released its constitutional addendum  on 18 June. The contentious changes to the Constitutional Declaration effectively gave the SCAF legislative authority, powers over the Constituent Assembly and a say in the constitution-drafting process.

In addition, the military council protected itself from presidential interference, by stating that current SCAF members decided on all issues related to the armed forces including appointing its leaders. The then-head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and remain as Minister of Defence (according to Article 53 of addendum). Many feared that Egypt’s first post-revolution premier would be a puppet president.

This was blown out of the water Sunday when President Morsi unexpectedly cancelled the crucial SCAF addendum and replaced defence minister Tantawi with head of military intelligence Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, as well as retiring SCAF member chief of staff Sami Anan.

Morsi went further still with his countermove.

Previously presidential authorities were outlined in Article 25 and 56 of the 30 March Constitutional Declaration. Legislation, a parliamentary responsibility, was not one of the powers of the president.

After the SCAF dissolved parliament, they assumed the power to legislate in their controversial June amendments.

By cancelling the SCAF addendum and then authoring the 12 August changes, Morsi has assigned these additional “supra” powers to the president: the power to legislate and to issue public policy and the budget (according to sub-point 1 and 2 of Article 56).

With the status of the parliament still uncertain, Morsi now has full power to author, approve and promulgate legislation: an authority not usually ascribed to the executive body.

Questions have been raised about the consequence of this, as the separation of these powers is normally an important check and balance, a criticism initially levelled at the SCAF.

It is, however, expected that Morsi will hand these powers back to the new parliament when it is elected.

Morsi also counteracted another contentious article in the now-defunct 18 June SCAF addendum. Instead of the military council re-selecting the Constituent Assembly, should the current body be unable to complete its work, the president will choose the new Constituent Assembly members.

SCAF’s initial article had sparked national uproar back in June as it effectively gave the military powers over the drafting of the new constitution, a criticism which some have now directed towards the president.

However, the president wrote in his document that should he appoint a new Constituent Assembly it will “represent all factions of Egyptian society” and will be done “after consulting with political forces”, which was absent from the initial military article.

This addition is perhaps a bid to assuage fears, as one of the main criticisms levelled against the incumbent constitution-drafting body is that it is unrepresentative of Egypt’s diverse society. This was a sticking point that prompted mass walkouts of elected members when it was first formed earlier this year.

The president has also lengthened the SCAF’s time frame for re-creating a Constituent Assembly, sending the constitution to referendum and for calling parliamentary elections.

What Morsi has chosen to omit from his 12 August constitutional document is also of interest.

One of the divisive articles in SCAF’s now-defunct addendum stated that the president could only declare war after the approval of the military council (Article 53/1). With the addendum no longer in existence and parliament dissolved, it is yet to be seen what approval Morsi will now have seek before going to war, if any.

The SCAF had also written that if the country faces “internal unrest which requires the intervention of the armed forces” the president can “commission” the military “with the approval of the SCAF” to maintain security.

Now that the addendum has been cancelled and with the country facing domestic instability in North Sinai, the president may not have to secure the permission of the SCAF should he choose to deploy the armed forces in the coming days.

Bypassing the military council in these ways could be seen to be giving the president greater influence over the military.

However, these issues have yet to be clarified.

The president also chose not to include a rewrite of Article 60 B1 of the SCAF’s addendum in his August 12 document, which referred to the drafting of the constitution.

The military council had dictated that should “the president, the head of SCAF, the prime minister, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary or a fifth of the Constituent Assembly find that the new constitution contains an article or more which conflict with the revolution’s goals… or which conflict with any principle agreed upon in all of Egypt’s former constitutions” they can “demand that the Constituent Assembly revises this specific article.”

This point had been criticised by some political forces, as it gave the military a say in the writing of the constitution. In the 1971 Constitution only the president and the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament (the People’s Assembly) had the authority to contend constitutional articles.

SCAF’s point also stipulated that the High Constitutional Court would ultimately decide on the constitutional articles and that its decision was final.

It is still not determined how constitutional articles will be contended and who is authorised to contend or confirm them.

The military have yet to release an official response to these seismic changes. In addition, there are conflicting reports about whether the military council were consulted about its restructure or the cancelling of the document that previously afforded it significant powers.

Certainly Sunday’s document is Morsi’s most significant move since assuming the presidency.

Military trials for civilians: The human cost

 

Egypt’s military junta led a widespread crackdown on anti-military rule protesters in Cairo’s district of Abbasiya on 4 May. What followed marked the single largest wave of arrests and detentions since the military assumed power in February 2011.

“The ruling military wants to see how far they can go with the people,” says Salma Abdel-Gelil, 36, from the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign, regarding the military’s roundup and detention of civilians on 4 May.

“There was public division over whether the protest which sparked the arrests was a good or bad idea. The indecision explains the level of brutality they were able to unleash.”

Over 300 civilians were arrested after military police violently dispersed a thousands-strong protest march to the Ministry of Defence in the Cairo district of Abbasiya in early May.

Hundreds currently face military trials, a practice which is illegal under international human rights law and which sees defendants summarily tried by military judges with little to no legal representation.

In protest of abusive treatment, over 100 of the prisoners currently facing trial are staging an open-ended hunger strike. On Sunday, 460 activists, including presidential candidate Khaled Ali, joined them in a symbolic one-day fast.

The hunger strike comes after a perceived let-down from parliament, who was in the process of amending Egypt’s 1966 Codes of Military Justice. The amendments permitted trying civilians under, supposedly more limited, prescribed circumstances. But it isn’t enough. Activists object that the amendments are ineffectual.

Over 12,000 civilians, including children, have faced military tribunals in the last year, which is more than double the number during former president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.  Under Mubarak, military trials of civilians were reserved for high-profile political cases such as the 2008 conviction of former Muslim Brotherhood presidential contender Khairat El-Shater.

Military tribunals have been utilised since the Nasser era to deter political dissent, quell opposition and diffuse movements, but often, the real damage is a human one.

“According to what we heard from different testimonies it is clear there is regular torture, at moment of arrest, interrogation and sometimes detention,” says Dr Basma Abdel-Rahman, a psychiatrist at the Al-Nadeem centre, a civil society group which rehabilitates victims of violence.

“The main effect or goal of torture is to humiliate the person,” she explains. The torturer, she continues, aims to break the victim’s dignity, self-confidence, and will to resist in the long term as a means of control.

In the context of military trials, she adds, the purpose is also to make an example out of the victim in front of their communities.

Those that were detained by the military during the 18–day uprising were treated particularly badly, says Maha Mahmoun of the Hisham Mubarak Law centre, which represents many victims during the military tribunal process.

In addition, civilians arrested before August 2011 were also detained in military prisons, where, Mahmoun says, unverified reports show treatment of victims is more severe.

Adel Ramadan, 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.

Abu-Arab was one of the first protesters to be arrested during the revolution, on 3 February 2011. He was charged with “thuggery” and sentenced to five years in jail (although he served just one).

He was lucky, Ramadan explained, as the commanding officer came from the same village and so Abu-Arab had the usual “torture package” of beatings, verbal humiliation and sporadic starvation. However, Ramadan asserts, he 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. The beatings, his cousin told him, were brutal enough to be fatal.

There are reported cases during the 18 days that people died in military detention, although this is impossible to verify.

Even after the 18 days, torture continued even in high profile cases, such as Maikel Nabil, an internationally known blogger, who was arrested on 28 March 2011 for writing a post criticising the military.

He recounts being drugged three times to force him to speak and was eventually put in solitary confinement in a one metre-squared cell for two months.

“It had sewage on the floor,” he recalls. “As I spent more than two weeks with no access to light, I got skin diseases. I was unable to sit properly or walk. For two weeks I had no human contact at all.”

Torture of the Abbasiya detainees is one of the driving forces behind Sunday’s hunger strike campaign.

One protester arrested by military police on 4 May, who wished to remain anonymous, reported how a fellow detainee in Tora prison was in shock from the arrest and could not speak. “The officer took his silence to mean he was being disrespectful so they used a water hose in his mouth; the guy was clearly suffocating.”

This is not the first documented case of water torture. In October last year, Essam Atta, 24 who was arrested on 25 February and sentenced in front of a military court, died in the same prison. Although the state autopsy says he overdosed, Atta’s family noticed displays of abuse on his corpse and his cell mates claimed prison guards pushed hoses into his mouth and anus, drowning him.

Video and photographic evidence show arrests are often very violent. Abdel-Ahmed Karim described being beaten by 20 soldiers on his way to the 9 September 2011 protest outside the Israeli embassy.

“It was like an old movie, everything just paused,” Karim described, beginning to cry. “I was already sick. I had a high fever so I couldn’t stand up. They were hitting me everywhere with sticks.”

His ear was damaged, his leg limp and his hand was not working correctly after the beating, he said.

Karim was taken to the military prosecutor, in a building known as C28, where he described sleeping and waking to the sound of screams coming from neighbouring cells

“For 100 days I never saw the sun,” Karim added.

During the clashes, the wounded are more vulnerable to arrest because of their lack of mobility. At the defence ministry on 4 May, the military stormed a nearby state hospital, Ain Shams, and arrested injured protesters from their hospital beds.

“I got a call from a friend, Halim, who was trapped in Ain Shams hospital, where he had carried an injured colleague,” explains Ola Shahba, from the Justice and Freedom Youth Movement. “The army got in by force, he said, and he was hiding under the bed in a doctor’s coat.”

Both were arrested, she added. Hakim, the injured friend, later reported to his lawyers that they had been electrocuted and that he was left in his underwear for two days.

The manner in which detainees are processed by military authorities contributes to the distress.

According to the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign and EIPR, military sentences are administered quickly often on trumped up charges. As Ramadan illustrated, by the time he found out his cousin had been taken by the military, Abu-Arab had already been sentenced to five years.

Nadia Hassan from No Military Trials for Civilians relates a case the group dealt with where a trial took place in a kitchen, due the lack of court space.

“The goal of any torturer is to increase the sense of helplessness,” explains Abdel-Rahman. “It adds to this feeling if you cannot defend yourself or properly appeal; in a military court the decision is final, which is a kind of torture itself.”

Karim, who claims he never even made it to the Israeli embassy protest, was charged with attacking the Giza security services and the Saudi embassy as well as burning the Zoo, a nearby park and Cairo University.

“Victims frequently suffer from anxiety, insomnia and insecurity,” explains Abdel-Rahman. “Their memories intrude on their consciousness, and sometimes became an obstacle for them to perform a normal job.”

They will sometime experience “hyper-arousal” – where even pedestrian events such as the sound of a police siren can trigger memories.

Dr Aya Mohamed Kamal, who has a background in psychiatry, was detained for a few days during the recent Abbasiya clashes and recognised the threat of post-traumatic stress disorder. “We set up a peer support group in our cell to talk about our emotions,” she said, explaining how she used her training to help fellow female inmates after they had been badly beaten.

“Those who are released are often not in a good state, they are psychologically damaged, become violent and sometimes suicidal,” Mahmoun explains.

Financial worries add to the problem, particularly as many victims come from impoverished backgrounds and are the breadwinners of their family. In the case of Abu-Arab, he not only lost his job as he was in prison for a year, but now has a criminal record, so he cannot find work.

Groups like EIPR and No Military Trials for Civilians drafted changes in six specific articles in military law that refer to civilians, in a bid to have Parliament push the amendments through.

In particular, they wanted to add sub-bullet points to Article 4 protecting civilians who work in “non-military operations” that are still run by the army, such as factories and hospitals.

Furthermore, they want to change Article 48, which states that any civilian involved in a dispute with a member of the military, which could include anything from a car crash to a land dispute, can be tried in a military court.

Another issue was changing the provisions, which allow children to be tried before military courts.

The groups also want to set up a special committee, with a Ministry of Justice-assigned judge, to run retrials of all civilians who have faced military courts.

Parliament instead made minor changes to the 1966 legislation, related to limiting the power of the president to refer civilians to military courts.

Nevertheless the regular protests and social media campaigns spearheaded by these civil society groups have directed public attention to this pressing issue, which in many cases has forced the military to release victims.

The legal and psychological support offered to detainees and their families has also been crucial.

“The only way these trials can be stopped is through the pressure that human rights organisations are continuing putting on the military council.” Ramadan concluded, adding that they have “cornered” the military into at the, very least, not abusing their own rules.

Protests like the solidarity hunger strike are one of these effective pressure campaigns.

“The proof is the way in which these tribunals are now being conducted. Before it was a five minute trial without evidence, now they at least have to provide witnesses.  We’ve got a long way to go, but this is something to celebrate.”

 

YouTube phenomenon ‘Dancing Matt’ visits Tahrir

 

Matt Harding, the 36-year-old Internet sensation who became known for YouTube clips of himself dancing in different locations across the world, came to Tahrir Square Sunday.

“Dancing Matt” who is currently making his fourth film, has been travelling around the world for two years compiling clips for the next film. This latest internet offering will feature him dancing in over 50 countries including Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq and of course Egypt.

“This is one of the hardest I’ve done so far,” Matt told Ahram Online making reference to the fight that broke out when he attempted to dance on the central roundabout.  Against the backdrop of the ongoing revolution and at a time when the state has been encouraging a fear of a “foreign plot” following the trial of 29 foreign NGO workers, a dancing American did not go down too well.

However Matt persevered.

As advertised on his Facebook page, Matt appeared at the square’s central garden at 2pm, in among bemused looking onlookers and the revolutionary tents that have been staging a sit-in since last year.

“This is how I dance. Left, right, left, right, elbows like this, then snap your fingers and then big smile,” Matt demonstrated to the 100 or so young people who enthusiastically joined in.

Matt’s team managed to film for one uninterrupted minute, before the problems started. A group of a few men appeared around him, yelling for him to leave the square.

“You’re dancing while our [slain] children have not rested in their graves. People have died here, what are you dancing for? Get out now,” shouted the man, who turned out to be a one of the fathers of a January 25 Revolution martyr. The families have been staging a protest on the square for months.

Another group of men talked about how a dancing video in Tahrir Square could be misused by the media to spoil the image of Egyptian protesters. “Adams,” the self-proclaimed manager of Tahrir’s sit-in, then brought a couple of his cronies, who threatened to take the equipment.

The reactions of onlookers reflected the extent to which Egyptians have been affected by recent anti-foreigner media rhetoric.

Forty-three NGO workers who currently face trial have been accused of operating illegally and attempting to “destablise” the country, sparking further conspiracy theories about the dealings of foreigners in Egypt.

There was public uproar when a travel ban on at least 13 of the accused foreign NGO workers was abruptly lifted on Thursday and they were flown home in a US military plane. So much so Egypt’s de facto leader Field Marshal Tantawi did not attend the all-important joint session of parliament he himself called, allegedly, for security reasons.  In addition Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri and members of his Cabinet have been summouned to parliament on 11 March in order to explain themselves.

“See those Americans; they’re rubbing it in our faces,” an onlooker said in Tahrir Square. “They came here to dance and celebrate the release of their NGO workers by our very own authorities.”

“Do you think it is right that he shows us as in this [symbolic] square dancing like fools?” added another.

“Why isn’t it true that we’re fools? The military council has been making fools out of all of us [since the uprising], especially after what happened with those foreigner NGO employees,” one man replied to him.

Undeterred, the dancing crowd regrouped at an aisle garden opposite to the Egyptian Museum. This time, Matt and his excited fan crowd were left in peace to film two separate one-minute shots of two different dance routines.

“I wanted to make the point that people are the same everywhere you go,” Matt said, as he rested after his dance-off, “I wanted to make that even more clear in this film and include places where you do not expect to see people dancing and celebrating.”

“In Egypt people told me I have to come to Tahrir, so I did… I dance with people from the places and they usually help if there is any trouble, like they helped me here,” he said. “Today was not easy.”

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.

New walls built around interior ministry as clashes continue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three concrete walls were erected around Egypt’s interior ministry on Sunday morning by the ministry’s Central Security Forces (CSF) as fierce clashes between anti-government protesters and police entered their fourth consecutive day outside the ministry’s precincts.

Fighting in the streets of downtown Cairo, where the ministry is located, initially erupted following protests staged by the Ultras – hardcore football fans – against security forces’ handling of last week’s clash between rival football fans in Port Said that left 74 dead.

Demonstrators are calling for a radical overhaul of Egypt’s police apparatus and the immediate handover of executive power from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which they hold responsible for last week’s football violence, to a civilian authority.

The new concrete barricades around the ministry bring the number of walls recently built by Egyptian security forces in and around Tahrir Square to eight, including barriers built by the army in November and December.

Clashes have also continued in the canal city of Suez, another hotbed of recent anti-government protests. Since Thursday, a total of 12 people have been reported killed and over 2,500 injured in both cities.

Despite a temporary ceasefire on Saturday morning and the erection of barbed-wire barricades on Mansour Street, located adjacent to the ministry, violence erupted again at around 4pm. Police at that point began firing teargas into the crowd of several thousand protesters.

Fighting intensified over night, with the CSF employing large amounts of teargas – along with rubber bullets, birdshot and, reportedly, live ammunition – to disperse crowds.

“We’ve mainly seen birdshot injuries to the face and legs and excessive tear gas inhalation,” said Ahmed Nasr, 22, a doctor’s assistant at a makeshift field hospital on Falaky Street.

Ahram Online saw one protester convulsing after inhaling excessive amounts of teargas as he was being driven to hospital on the back of a motorcycle.

“We’ve also begun seeing an unidentified black gas,” said protester Mahmoud Nabil, 21. “This black smoke makes everyone faint. No one knows what it is.”

At approximately 3am Sunday morning, the CSF began transporting large concrete blocks to the area, where they proceeded to build a 12-foot-high concrete barricade on Fahmy Street in a bid to separate demonstrators from the ministry. Protesters, meanwhile, congregated around Mansour Street.

“It was very calm when they were building the wall on Fahmy Street,” said Nabil. “Then two CSF units abruptly launched an attack from that direction.”

At around 5am, at least two armoured vehicles entered the area firing bullets and tear gas, eyewitnesses told Ahram Online. Security forces, meanwhile, began building another wall on Mansour Street.

“Soldiers ran alongside the cars beating protesters with batons,” said one activist who gave his name as Hossam. “We were pushed to Bab Al-Louq Square or down behind the dismantled Mohamed Mahmoud wall.”

According to eyewitnesses, several protesters were detained by security forces at this point.

Eighteen-year-old student and protester Sanaa Seif alleged that her freind, Ahmed Ibrahim, had been “arrested by a man in plainclothes and tortured inside the ministry.” Seif also said that a handful of protesters who had situated themselves next to the Property Tax building opposite the ministry had also been arrested after the army had forced protesters from the area.

Exact numbers of those detained during Sunday morning’s clashes, however, remain unconfirmed.

Some field hospitals, meanwhile, were also targeted by security forces.

“Doctors were trapped inside the Falaky Street field hospital when the side streets were cleared,” said Hossam. “Police attacked the hospital and beat doctors. The injured were unable to flee. Ambulances tried to rescue them, but they also came under fire. Eventually, the CSF said they would hand over the doctors if we left the street.”

Later on Sunday morning, the military began assisting the CSF in building a third wall on Falaky Street. Ranks of police guarded the partially-erected wall as the army, using cranes, laid down a final layer of concrete blocks. A group of local residents, meanwhile, prevented protesters from approaching the construction work.

At 10:45am, armoured vehicles entered Mohamed Mahmoud Street and began advancing on the dozens of protesters who still remained in the area.

Several local residents told Ahram Online that they had urged activists to move their protest to Tahrir Square, complaining that the new barricades and ongoing clashes were sorely disrupting life in the area.

By midday, however, clashes had resumed, with the CSF again firing tear gas and birdshot at protesters.

At 2pm, there was a lull in the violence when a group of unidentified activists formed a human chain in front of the police line on Mansour Street in an effort to separate the two warring sides. “Those who claim to love Egypt shouldn’t destroy it,” they chanted.

Mazhar Shahin, imam at the nearby Omar Makram Mosque, organised a 200-strong march from Tahrir Square that arrived at Mansour Street at about 3.30pm with the stated aim of maintaining a temporary truce between police and protesters.