Battles rage as Egypt counts ballots

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 17, 2011 

CAIRO — Egyptian soldiers hurled rocks, cement bricks and glass plates at protesters as the two sides battled in a second straight day of post-election violence that's left at least nine people dead and some 300 injured, according to official figures.

As hundreds of armored tanks stood watch over ballot counting stations in nine governorates for the second round of parliamentary elections, soldiers chased throngs of protesters through the streets in bloody confrontations near Tahrir Square and the Cabinet and parliament buildings.

Motorbikes carried protesters with blood gushing from fresh head wounds they sustained after a battle of flying rocks that continued for more than 12 hours.

Scores of infuriated protesters reacted by showering rocks and Molotov cocktails at two government buildings — the roads authority and the library of science — in which some soldiers had taken refuge. Both buildings caught fire Saturday morning, sending clouds of black smoke above downtown Cairo.

The violence has marred Egypt's first election since longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak left power in February, a widely praised vote last month that saw Islamist candidates and chiefly the Muslim Brotherhood score major victories. However, protesters continue to seethe at the interim military government for what they describe as violent tactics and a lack of political reforms implemented since Mubarak's ouster.

Protesters have begun documenting violence allegedly committed by the military, using social media websites to circulate photos and videos of what appeared to be a growing number of attacks on women. One set of photographs showed soldiers brutally beating and stripping a female protester. A video showed what appeared to be an army soldier in uniform urinating on protesters from the rooftop of the roads building.

"My female colleague fell while army soldiers chased us. I tried to protect her and they attacked us," said Nour Ayman Nour, an Egyptian activist who was detained and beaten by military officers.

Several local media outlets published photos of bruises covering Nour's body. Currently receiving treatment at a Cairo hospital after he was released from detention, Nour said he would file suit against the military for his injuries.

Among the dead was Sheikh Emad Effat, a popular religious scholar, who was reportedly shot in the head by military personnel in front of the parliament building, where he'd been protesting.

Thousands gathered for a funeral for Effat, who gained supporters among Egypt's young revolutionaries after he issued a fatwa, or religious decree, barring anyone from voting for former members of Mubarak's regime who were seeking parliamentary seats.

Hundreds of students also mourned Alaa Abdelhadi, a 22 year-old medical student who was killed a few hours before the Effat. Mourners from the two services joined together to march to Tahrir Square — epicenter of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

The head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, announced that he "gave orders to treat all injured protesters at the expense of the government." The council said that it had taken all necessary measures to stop the violence, but also that it would build a cement wall to separate protesters and soldiers — a move not likely to dampen the tensions.

Witnesses reported soldiers burning tents and the belongings of protesters, fueling complaints that the newly appointed prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, had failed to live up to pledges not to attack peaceful protesters. Demonstrators had blocked access to the Egyptian Cabinet for the past several weeks, forcing the government to move temporarily to a different location.

"What is happening on the street now is not a revolution; it is an attack on the revolution," Ganzouri said in a statement. He said that he had told a meeting of 350 demonstrators that his cabinet would seek the "salvation" of the revolution.

The liberal politician and political scientist Amr Hamzawy, who won a seat in the new parliament, filed suit against the government for the attacks on protesters. On his Twitter account, Hamzawy called on injured protesters to meet him at a police station in downtown Cairo to file injury reports.

Hamzawy condemned what he called the military's weak response to the crisis and demanded an end to violence against peaceful demonstrators as well as an official apology.

At least eight members of a civilian advisory council formed by the military resigned in protest against the violence.

After nightfall Saturday, military engineers constructed a huge cement barricade on Kasr el Aini street, which houses the parliament and is one of the main arteries leading to Tahrir Square. The cement wall is the second to be built by the military in less than five weeks.

"This reflects the military mentality, which undermines and despises the civilian mentality," said Nour, the injured activist.

(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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