Jihan Hafiz reports that dozens killed as Egyptians demand a civilian government
JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN: Death and chaos in Cairo. This is Egypt one week before its first parliamentary elections since a popular uprising removed former President Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.
HAFIZ: Okay. We’re in Mohammed Mahmoud Street right now. This is where most of the battle–most of the street battles have taken place [incompr.] American University. And [incompr.] trying to hold down this street for 48 hours. They’ve been shooting rubber bullets, some live ammunition, and tear gas right into the street. You can actually see–you can actually see injured people walking in this way right now.
HAFIZ: A massive demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday ended without incidents. But when a few hundred protesters tried to stay in the square, the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution, the military government tried to displace them violently.
AHMAD AGGOUR, ACTIVIST: It was basically a sit-in to demand the handing over of authority to civilians. And basically the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist parties, they were joining us, and then they left. And the people who stayed were the injured people from the Revolution. Then, the next morning, the police came, they ripped out all the tents, they attacked everybody, they started beating them up. So we started gathering and going back to Tahrir. And as soon as the numbers became big enough, the clashes started.
HAFIZ: It was the first time Egypt’s much-discredited police force had attacked demonstrators since January. On Saturday, the police killed two and injured hundreds. But the protesters proved resilient and reoccupied the square Saturday evening. Throughout the night, thousands waited for an imminent attack from the police, preparing rocks and Molotov cocktails to defend the square. This time it was not the police but the military forces who attacked. They dispersed the protesters. But once again the people managed to retake Tahrir.
NOURA OTHMAN, ACTIVIST: Today I can say I saw them being oppressed, like, I’ve seen them beating people and–who have been hammered and, like, bombarded with tear gas. Like, I fainted in the morning because of the tear gas. I’m a pharmacist by profession. I was in the field hospital. And then they attacked us in the field hospital. And it’s a closed place–we didn’t have really good ventilation. So that was the army. It wasn’t the police.
HAFIZ: This street clinic in Tahrir was quickly overwhelmed with casualties and dead bodies. Doctors here say police and soldiers are using excessive force to push back demonstrators, including tear gas they say is more toxic than that normally used against protesters.
AHMED FAYEZ, VOLUNTEER DOCTOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What we saw in the clinic here were four declared dead. Of them, three suffocated to death, and the last one was hit over the head. He was beaten badly. The military council tried to empty the square with force and beat some of the most important people in Egypt, whom have been martyred. According to the Revolution, these are the most important people in Egypt. The military is instigating all of Egypt to participate in the protests. The people will continue to join, and the Revolution will not die. What they are doing is proving that the Revolution is ongoing.
HAFIZ: This mosque half a block from Tahrir Square served as a makeshift hospital during the January uprising. Once again it was inundated by the injured, who received care on blankets and prayer mats. The health ministry reports 20 were killed and over 2,000 injured in just 48 hours. On Monday, ten more were added to death toll. The battle for Tahrir raged on all night Sunday. By daybreak on Monday, government forces continued their assault.
HAFIZ: They just pushed–they just pushed the protesters out of Mohammed Mahmoud Street, where they’re shooting tear gas, rubber bullets, and what sounded like live ammunition. You can see people are being flushed back out into Tahrir Square, and they’re heading back. But everyone’s still trying to hold the square. We can feel the tear gas from here.
HAFIZ: Police forces pushed toward the square from their bastion, the hated Interior Ministry. The violence forced these doctors and medical personnel to hastily relocate their clinic in the middle of the square. Protesters claimed the police set fire to this building just a block away from Tahrir. The latest revolt is already being dubbed by Egyptians as their second revolution. Protests have taken place all over the country. Everywhere, people express mistrust in upcoming elections and accuse the military council of trying to hijack the Revolution.
EGYPTIAN PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Help us! Leave us alone! Will the Human Rights Council come and deal with this? Both the military and the government are corrupt. The Parliament, the ministers, and Hosni Mubarak are thieves, and they brought snipers to finish us off, as if we are Palestine and they are Israel.
HAFIZ: Some candidates are already pulling out of the parliamentary elections slated for November 28. The military council says the elections will proceed as scheduled. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most influential political organization in Egypt backs the military council’s decision. But on the front lines of the street battles, many Egyptians question the political parties and prominent figures of the January uprising.
EGYPTIAN PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Where is the Muslim Brotherhood? Where are all of these people? Where are the Salafists? Everyone is sitting, and we are running around, getting burned, running away. … Where are those people? People are dying! The police that is supposed to save us is burning us alive!
EGYPTIAN PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Where did Wael Ghoneim go? Is he getting beaten like the rest of us? He started a revolution, then what? He started a revolution, then what? Where did Wael Ghoneim go? Is he getting beaten like the rest of us?
EGYPTIAN PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The ones who are here today are the real revolutionaries.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Freedom! Freedom!
HAFIZ: Here on the streets, there are no leaders or political affiliations, only a steadfast commitment to fight for the ouster of the military regime.
AGGOUR: [incompr.] going to be a sit-in. It’s going to be anti-SCAF. We don’t want the SCAF, we don’t want the military council. We want power handed to civilian authority, like, right now, not later, not after the elections.
HAFIZ: As the battle for Tahrir finishes its third day, Egyptians in the square remain defiant. Jihan Hafiz for Real News in Cairo, Egypt.
End of Transcript
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