Saturday, November 26, 2011

Egypt Braces For Fresh Clashes After Protester's Death

November 26, 2011

Egypt Braces for Fresh Clashes After Protester’s Death

New York Times

CAIRO — The killing of an unarmed demonstrator by the police on Saturday threatened to stir up new protests here as Egypt’s military rulers and political parties braced for potential chaos surrounding the parliamentary elections scheduled to start on Monday.

An outpouring of anger over the episode, in which a protester was run over by a police truck, added to fears that continued protests and violence would undermine the integrity of the vote, the first since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

The episode took place at the end of a week of mounting protests across the country against Egypt’s interim military rulers, accused of threatening the revolution that brought down Mr. Mubarak by claiming permanent political powers and autonomy above a civilian government. The death recalled the event that set off the recent uprising, when the heavy-handed eviction of a small protest camp in Tahrir Square galvanized public anger against the military’s power grab.

That eviction set off five days of clashes with the security police that left more than 40 dead and 2,000 injured, and it drew hundreds of thousands back to the square in recreations of the two-week sit-in that ousted Mr. Mubarak in February. Other protests continued around the country on Friday night, including a demonstration by thousands in Alexandria, and on Saturday there were calls for major new demonstrations on Sunday or Monday.

Also Saturday, The Associated Press reported that three Americans who were studying at the American University here and had been arrested during a protest last Sunday had left Egypt early in the day. It was unclear when they would arrive in the United States.

Still scrambling to quiet the streets, Egypt’s military rulers met separately on Saturday with two prominent civilian leaders, the former diplomats Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, the state news agency reported. Both said only that they talked about addressing the crisis. Protesters in Tahrir Square have rallied around the idea that Mr. ElBaradei, who won a Nobel Peace Prize as the director of the United Nations nuclear energy watchdog, could lead a new interim civilian government. Mr. Moussa, a former foreign minister and secretary general of the Arab League, is one of Egypt’s most popular politicians.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the popular Islamist group positioned to win a major role in the new Parliament, stepped up its own preparations for the possibility of mayhem around the elections. Its new Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement that it would form “protection committees of volunteers” to help secure polling places.

The protester’s death on Saturday evoked a pattern of excessive force, half-apology and finger-pointing by the military-led government that has contributed to the escalating tension here. It took place early Saturday when six security police trucks arrived to relieve the night shift at the offices of the Egyptian cabinet. A few hundred demonstrators had been camped there since Friday night to protest the military council’s appointment of another prime minister.

Although it was widely reported here on Friday that a contingent of demonstrators had moved to the cabinet building from the sit-in in Tahrir Square, the police in the trucks were surprised to see them, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. In the confusion, the police fired tear gas into the crowd and ran over one of the demonstrators, Ahmed Sayed El Soroor, 19, killing him.

The Interior Ministry expressed its regret for the death. But it also said the protesters were partly to blame because they had hurled rocks and gasoline bombs at the armed police cars. Military leaders issued a similar expression of regret after the deaths of two dozen Coptic Christians at a protest last month. But, at a news conference to discuss the event, the generals argued that the Coptic protesters had started the violence and scared the troops. In an effort to flee, they said, the soldiers may have driven armored vehicles over civilians.

Last week, the military issued another apology for the civilian deaths in the recent clashes near Tahrir Square. But, at the same time, it argued that the police were justified in using deadly force because the civilians were threatening the Interior Ministry.

By midday Saturday, outraged protesters were talking about carrying the 19-year-old’s coffin to Tahrir Square for a public funeral.

“I wish youth in Tahrir wouldn’t leave the square before their demands are met because I see Ahmed, my son, in all of them,” his mother, Zeinab Ali Abdel Salam, told the state newspaper, Al Ahram.

Many protesters dismissed the military’s claim that the death was an accident. They vowed to stay in the square until the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces relents. “We are not going to rest until the S.C.A.F. is judged for spilling the blood of our children,” said Wafaa Ahmed, 55, a homemaker.

Mohamed Abid, 35, a travel agent, asked, “How many more people must die before the S.C.A.F. unclenches its grip on power?”

Mayy el Sheikh and Dina Salah Amer contributed reporting.

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