Pro-Mubarak mob attacks protesters with stones, fire-bombs

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 2, 2011 

CAIRO — Barely 12 hours after U.S.-allied Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he would serve out the remainder of his term, a club-wielding mob chanting his name overwhelmed pro-democracy protestors in Tahrir Square on Wednesday, hurling stones and fire-bombs at the people who've demanded his resignation after nearly 30 years in power.

The heavily choreographed siege — the pro-Mubarak forces massed outside the square for hours and came equipped with slogans and knives — opened a violent new chapter in Egypt's nine-day-old uprising and defied President Barack Obama's call for a transition to a new government.

Just a day earlier, the downtown Cairo square, whose name means "Liberation," had been the site of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations in memory here, with hundreds of thousands, many waving Egyptian flags, gathering for a peaceful day of songs and chants. In Wednesday's onslaught, forces allied with Mubarak waved their own Egyptian flags and advanced on the square, attempting to seize the democracy movement's main symbols in an outburst of violence.

News reports said that several hundred people were injured, many by chunks of concrete that demonstrators broke loose from a construction site and hurled at their opponents. Al Arabiya channel reported dead bodies in the square. TV news footage showed Mubarak supporters on horses and camels galloping wildly through the square, nearly trampling people.

At the start of the attack, thousands of Mubarak supporters, most of them male and some carrying pictures of the president, pushed past a thin line of Egyptian soldiers guarding the entrance to the square. Several dozen angry Mubarak supporters chased three pro-democracy demonstrators — a man in a hooded sweatshirt and two young women in jeans and sunglasses — out of the square and down a side street, waving their fists and chanting, "Get out!" before they ducked into a hotel for safety.

The group was openly hostile to journalists, with one group attacking a CNN camera crew and a young woman in a headscarf trying to force a camera out of a McClatchy reporter's hands.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about attacks on the media and peaceful demonstrators.

A young man in spectacles, whose friend called him Samer but who identified himself as Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, said he came because "we love our president." When asked about the democracy protesters, he said, "I want to kill them."

Egyptian soldiers let the running battles carry on for several hours before moving to separate the two sides, parking trucks at opposite ends of the square and firing warning shots in the air. However, the pro-Mubarak forces continued to try to take the square, and after nightfall some of the president's supporters occupied rooftops and hurled Molotov cocktails into the square or in the direction of the other side.

Hours earlier, the Egyptian military had called for an end to the eight days of demonstrations demanding Mubarak's ouster and urged the pro-democracy movement to stand down. Many, however, have said that they will continue to protest until Mubarak leaves office, despite his vow to serve out his term.

"You have started coming out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of returning normal life to Egypt," Ismail Etman, a spokesman for the Egyptian army, said in a televised speech. "Your message has arrived; your demands have become known."

It was the first time that Mubarak supporters had appeared in such massive numbers, and the move appeared carefully choreographed. Hotel workers in Tahrir Square said that the group had been massing along the Nile riverfront, a few hundred yards from the square, for seven hours.

"Where is Al Jazeera? The Egyptians are here!" some demonstrators chanted, referring to the pan-Arab satellite channel whose Cairo bureau was closed last week by Egyptian authorities after it aired around-the-clock video of the pro-democracy rallies.

Al Jazeera English, which has continued to broadcast via satellite, aired video of what it said were police identification cards that pro-democracy demonstrators had seized from some Mubarak supporters. Many Egyptians accuse the police of brutality against Mubarak's opponents, and say that the police force melted away from the streets after demonstrations began in order to sow chaos.

On Wednesday morning, in another sign that Mubarak was trying to close the book on the unrest directed against him, Internet service was restored to much of Egypt, ending a weeklong blackout aimed at stifling the protests, which experts said was unprecedented in the short history of the Web.

Special correspondent Miret El Naggar contributed from Cairo.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service