Jack Shenker (Guardian UK) | RS_News
November 20 2011
Egypt has been hit by another wave of major violence ahead of parliamentary elections after security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters demonstrating against the military junta.
Two people were reported dead and more than 600 injured in central Cairo after riot police sent volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and “birdshot” pellet cartridges into the crowds. The clashes put further pressure on the ruling generals and cast doubt on the ability of police to secure the poll, scheduled to begin on 28 November.
“All options are on the table, but right now – given the state Egypt is in – nobody can see how the military council can pull off these elections,” said Mahmoud Salem, a prominent blogger who is running for parliament but who has now frozen his campaign. “I’m at the international eye hospital at the moment with my friend Malek Mustafa, who has been shot in the head by police with a pellet cartridge and looks likely to lose his eye. How can I continue?”
Mustafa was one of dozens of demonstrators left with serious head wounds during the police assault on Tahrir Square. Trouble began after riot police moved to disperse tents set up after a large rally calling on Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to return the country to civilian rule.
Protesters succeeded in driving the security forces from the square and captured one of their trucks. Crowds jumped up and down on the vehicle, chanting “The interior ministry are thugs” and calling for the downfall of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the country’s de facto leader since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in February. It was later set ablaze.
By mid-afternoon police had returned to Tahrir in far larger numbers and began firing from armoured vehicles. Pro-change activists sent out calls for solidarity and as darkness fell police and the protesters saw their ranks swell. As the night wore on and control of Tahrir shifted back and forth between the security forces and demonstrators, running battles spilled down side streets and along several of downtown Cairo’s most important thoroughfares.
The Observer saw heavy fighting along Talaat Harb street, a key shopping district and one of the main roads running into Tahrir Square. Street lighting was cut and amid the gloom hundreds of protesters tore up paving stones to throw at police lines, sporadically falling back as clouds of tear gas filled the air.
“The scenes are reminiscent of the Friday of Anger,” said journalist and pro-change activist Hossam el-Hamalawy, referring to 28 January, the day protesters beat Mubarak’s security forces off the streets during the uprising against his regime. “We are being hit with showers of US-made tear gas canisters, and I’ve watched with my own eyes at least five people being struck by rubber bullets.”