jeudi 10 février 2011

The crisis in Egypt - A Cairo citizen reports on divisions in the army

For the people
After President Mubarak’s night time speech on the 1st February 2011, more violent fighting took place in Tahrir Square, where several thousand protesters remained. Mubarak's government had sent thousands of thugs armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. To prepare their forthcoming attacks and to intimidate the demonstrators, the thugs spread about threatening rumors. The demonstrators, having understood what was happening, were determined to arrest them and turn them over to the military. At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon allegedly pro-Mubarak demonstrators made a violent attempt to penetrate inside the square.
The army was snowed under. The crowd of protesters amassed at the entrance to the square near the Cairo Museum successfully repelled a thousand henchmen. An hour later the thugs changed tactics. Between 100 and 200 of them invested Talaat Harb Street, and started a confrontation immediately by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Protesters protected themselves as best they could by erecting a curtain with metal and fabrics. The protesters, scantily protected by the curtain, then then started throwing the stones back again. The confrontation lasted 30 minutes after which they are on the verge of being overwhelmed by the government’s minions.
As Mubarak’s henchmen were about to enter Tahrir Square, the protesters begged the army to intervene. A soldier descended from the tank on which he was posted, and tried to stop the advancing thugs himself. Unable to do this he then went back on his tank, took his handgun and pointed it at his temple. He wanted to commit suicide. Some demonstrators threw themselves on him and prevent this. Screaming, and yelling a protester kissed the soldier’s feet. In Egypt, this means: “I beg you, don’t do that.” All this took place in the space of several seemingly endless seconds.
The henchmen were more than 30 meters from Tahrir Square. A butchery was imminent. The brave soldier, without whom we would have perished in Tahrir Square that day, grabbed his assault rifle and shot 6 or 7 times in the air. The deafening sound of gunfire resounded around the whole square. Frightened, the thugs turned tail and fled. The danger was temporarily over. The protesters who had witnessed the scene, and all those watching from windows cheered the savior. Those closest embraced him. The man was in tears. Everyone screamed: “The army is with the people.”

The henchmen arrested by the protesters were handed over to the military amid insults from the crowd. Each of Moubarak’s men was protected by 3 or 4 demonstrators to ensure that the former weren’t lynched. There were dozens of wounded demonstrators. The thugs numbered no more than a hundred people, but without the army’s intervention the infamous attack orchestrated by the government would have led to the demonstrators being massacred when better organized and more violent attacks took place. The protesters prepared themselves in case of further violence by piling up stones in readiness on Talaat Harb Street. At 6:15 p.m. President Mubarak’s thugs attempted to set fire to the Cairo Museum.

Clashes between plain clothes police and "pro-Mubarak protesters mugs and protestors were very violent. The night of February 2nd to 3rd will remain engraved in our memories. The struggle to defend Tahrir Square lasted 16 hours and ended around 4 o'clock in the morning. There were more than 2,000 injured and 10 dead.

Against the people:

Omar Suleiman, the new Vice-President said on February 9th, “We cannot tolerate this situation much longer. It is imperative that this crisis ends as soon as possible. The alternative to dialogue will be an overthrow. We want to avoid an overthrow all costs, for the consequences of this no one can foresee. However these consequences will surely be unreasonable. We do not want to reach this stage in Egypt’s best interest, nor to undermine the concessions obtained by the people.”

This was undoubtedly a threat. The use of the word overthrow (in Arabic inqilab) is ambiguous. Usually inqilab is used to describe a coup. However, in the sentence’s context, the probability that Suleiman meant a military coup is very small. It seems more likely he meant an overthrow of the people’s resistance movement. The statement was predictable. All the signs were there. In the provinces, away from the television cameras, police violence is in full swing. In Alexandria, Suez, Tanta, Mahalla, Aswan, and Asyut … policemen, under the passive eye of the army are using automatic weapons. There are hundreds wounded across the nation. Dozens are dead. In Cairo, despite the public commitment by Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafik, journalists and bloggers are being arrested by the dozen. The day before yesterday, yesterday, and now today.
Yesterday, the protesters who were once gathered in Tahrir Square have now dispersed to the People's Assembly, the Council of State, and the Ministry of Interior … Other strategic points are now the target of protesters, particularly the Radio-Television building and of course the presidential palace. But the regime will not give in. Suleiman's statement and events in the provinces prove it. Unfortunately, the statement by Omar Suleiman (a lieutenant general) suggests that the army leadership has chosen to protect the regime. Yes, the army has arrested, insulted, electrocuted, and tortured hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators. It is also responsible for the arrest and torture of activists, lawyers and defenders of human rights, both Egyptian and foreign. We heard the story of one of those arrested. He did not wish to remain anonymous, but we decided not to reveal his name. This narrative describes the kidnapping of a dozen activists and two employees of Amnesty International.
On February the 3rd, the military police, secret service agents, plain clothed henchmen and members of State Security (Amn al-Dawla) orchestrated a spectacular raid in central Hisham Mubarak (no relation to President), on the Center for the Defense of Human Rights. At their head, and overseeing the smooth running of operations was an army general. They began first by surrounding the building to block all exits. Then the uniformed policemen give orders to those inside to lie face down on the ground, while other men ransacked the offices, and confiscated documents and computers.
The people on the ground, both Egyptians and foreigners, then faced a torrent of insults and abuse. The Egyptians were told "So motherfuckers! Is that what you do for your country, you sons of a bitch? Foreigners were told, "Fucking spies! Who do you work for?” Then they were all robbed of everything they had on them, phones, wallets, and passports.
Everything took place under the general’s calm gaze. The protestors were pulled to their feet without violence, and handcuffed by the military, who then blindfold them and led them to the exit where a dense crowd of waiting henchmen and curious bystanders was waiting. Once outside, the general told the protestors, “We could quite easily hand you over to this crowd to be lynched." In spite of his blindfold, our witness recognized the red vehicles in which they were bundled as those used by firemen.
The procession then headed to an unknown destination. Later, we found out that it was the sinister Camp 75, a military camp in the district of Mansheyet el Bakry on the outskirts of Cairo. Our witness was lucky. There was no torture nor physical violence, just the infliction of intensive psychological terror. The treatment lasted 36 hours before the group of foreigners was released. In neighboring cells, the screams of other prisoners was unbearable. Throughout the duration of their detention, new inmates arrived by dozens. Prisoners were given meager rations of water, bread and honey.
36 hours later the protestors was freed and given their personal possessions. A minibus took them to Cairo airport and released them near the Sonesta hotel. But the exhausted, shocked group was refused entry by the hotel management. The protestors then hailed a taxi, but before the latter had driven 500 yards, they got arrested again at a military intelligence checkpoint. The group was questioned again at 2 o'clock in the morning for 30 minutes, before being finally released. Contacted by telephone, colleagues and friends arranged for the group to be accommodated at the Hotel Fairmont, not far from Cairo International Airport.


These two stories reflect the deep division in the army. The controlling elite have interests and aspirations that the middle ranking military and the ordinary soldiers don’t have. In a situation in which the government is getting bogged down, the military elite, are getting tougher. On February 9, Omar Suleiman didn’t beat around the bush, he threatened that the army will be compelled to use force to end the ‘chaos’. For 3 days now we have been fearing a deteriorating relationship between the army and the people and a bloody confrontation. We are therefore praying that a decisive putsch, led by middle-ranking military with the support of the common soldiers is being planned.

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