The way all the Arab worlds be all heading as Clashes in Erupt Cairo turn more violent
The Egyptian government struck back at its opponents unleashing waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones, rocks and knives in and around Tahrir Square in a concerted effort to rout the protesters who have called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s near-30-year rule.
After first trying to respond peacefully, the protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around the square. A makeshift medical clinic staffed by dozens of doctors tended to a steady stream of anti-government protesters, many bleeding from head wounds.
As the two sides exchanged volleys, the military restricted itself mostly to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs. And on Wednesday night, state media broadcast an order from the government for all protesters to leave the square.
Signs that the pro-Mubarak forces were organized and possibly professional were abundant. When the melee broke out, a group of them tried to corner a couple of journalists in an alley to halt their reporting. Their assaults on the protesters seemed to come in well-timed waves.
Some protesters reported that they had been approached with offers of 50 Egyptian pounds, about $8.50, to carry pro-Mubarak placards. “Fifty pounds for my country?” one woman said, in apparent disbelief.
The counterattack was undertaken in the face of calls from leaders in Washington and Europe for peaceful and rapid political change, with the Foreign Ministry releasing a defiant statement in the state news media saying that such calls from “foreign parties” had been “rejected and aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.”
It followed Mr. Mubarak’s 10-minute television address on Tuesday, in which he pledged to step down within months an offer that was rejected by his opponents, who have demanded his immediate resignation — and was met with a call by President Obama for a political transition “now” that infuriated Cairo.
“There is a contradiction between calling on the transition to begin now and the calls which President Mubarak himself has made for an orderly transition,” an Egyptian official said. “Mubarak’s primary responsibility is to ensure an orderly and peaceful transfer of power. We can’t do that if we have a vacuum of power.”
The official said that the Egyptian government had “a serious issue with how the American White House is spinning this.”
The White House kept up the pressure on the Mubarak government, however, with the presidential spokesman, Robert Gibbs, telling reporters in Washington that “now means yesterday.”
He added: “There are reforms that need to be undertaken. There are opposition entities that need to be in the conversation.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a strong statement deploring the violence, adding what appeared to be a veiled threat. “If it turns out that the regime is any way has been sponsoring and tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable,” he said. “These are despicable scenes that we are seeing, and they should not be repeated.”
Meanwhile, a leading opposition leader in Cairo, Mohamed ElBaradei, issued a statement calling on the military to “intervene decisively to stop this massacre.”
The Egyptian health minister, Ahmed Sameh Farid, said that 596 people had been injured in the battles in Tahrir Square and that one man was killed when he fell off a bridge, The Associated Press reported.
The mayhem and chaos with riders on horses and camels thundering through the central square offered a complete contrast to the scenes only 24 hours earlier when hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters turned it into a place of jubilant celebration, believing that they were close to overthrowing a leader who has survived longer than any other in modern Egypt.
Such was the nervousness across the Arab world, spreading from its traditional heart in Egypt that the leader of Yemen offered on Wednesday to step down by 2013 and offered assurances his son would not succeed him the latest in a series of autocratic leaders bending to the wave of anger engulfing the region.
On Wednesday, the enduring standoff between Mr. Mubarak and his adversaries took an explosive and perilous turn, offering further proof that Mr. Mubarak had no intention of exiting earlier than he had announced. Hours after a call from Egypt’s powerful military for the president’s opponents to “restore normal life,” thousands of men, some carrying fresh flags and newly printed signs supporting Mr. Mubarak, surged into Tahrir Square.
For several hours in the afternoon, from a base in Talaat Harb Square, northeast of Tahrir Square, pro-Mubarak supporters wielding rebar, knives, pliers, long sticks and even a meat cleaver surged toward the anti-government protesters, under cover of rocks thrown by their confederates in the rear and from a roof of a nearby building.
At regular intervals, men were carried away from the fight bleeding.
A red car and a motorcycle travelled to the front, by the historic Groppi’s café, and shuttled the injured men away to a makeshift medical clinic staffed by dozens of doctors. At about 4 p.m., agitated young men started throwing rocks at the windows of residents, without explanation. Men also threw rocks at the offices of an opposition figure, Ayman Nour that overlooks the square.
en Mubarak’s Allies and Foes
A block away, at Champollion Street, a similar battle raged. Several people tried to stop two young men as they hauled a case of empty Pepsi bottles to their car and tore rags, apparently attempting to make Molotov cocktails. The young men brushed those efforts off.
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Throughout the afternoon, the president’s supporters emerged in a throng dragging men, presumably from the other side, away. In one case, it was a man in a colourful sweater who was held by a large man who pressed a knife to his captive’s throat. Another time, a mob surrounded a terrified man with a long beard, as soldiers tried to intervene. “God is great!” yelled the man with the beard, as the mob pressed forward.
Some of the Mubarak supporters were working-class men who had arrived in buses. Some headed to the battle with their sticks or their knives stuffed in their pants. One was a doctor who wore spectacles and held a club wrapped in electrical tape and armoured with tacks.
Some were men like Mohamed Hassan, an accountant, who had actually attended Tuesday’s anti-government demonstration. “Of course we needed a change,” said Mr. Hassan, standing on the Cornice not far from the Egyptian Museum. Mr. Mubarak’s speech to the nation had changed his mind. “I think all of our demands were filled. We need change, but step by step.”
Bystanders watched in shock and anger. One pointed to a bearded man calling people to prayer. “He did this to us,” the man said. Another man, watching the battle in Talaat Harb, said: “Mubarak lit the world on fire.” His friend told him to be quiet.
A 25-year-old who had just completed his compulsory military duty, Islam Hessomen, denounced the violence. “A few thousand people throwing rocks at each other is destroying the peaceful revolution of millions,” he said. “Mubarak doesn’t deserve to be president anymore.”
The pro-Mubarak forces were outnumbered by the protesters, who have spent nine days in the square insisting on his ouster. Clashes erupted close to the Egyptian Museum housing a huge trove of priceless antiquities.
There, the two sides traded volleys of rocks and Molotov cocktails and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. Many were led or carried away with bleeding head wounds. Anti-government protesters organized themselves into groups, smashing chunks of concrete into smaller projectiles that they hurled at their adversaries. The violence was the most serious since the anti-government protesters laid claim to Tahrir, or Liberation, Square days ago as they pursued what seemed to be a largely peaceful campaign for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.
Hours before the violence erupted in the square, anti-government protesters had been chanting: “We are not going to go; we are not going to go.”
In counterpoint, demonstrators supporting Mr. Mubarak chorused back: “He’s not going to go; he’s not going to go.” But the mood changed as plumes of smoke, apparently from tear gas, rose above the rival crowds surging back and forth as the two sides fought for the upper hand.
“Where’s the Egyptian army?” anti-government demonstrators chanted.
“They are trying to create chaos,” said Mohamed Ahmed, 30. “This is what Mubarak wants.”
The army took no immediate action as the skirmishes intensified, leaving the competing demonstrators to press toward one another. But troops with bayonets fixed to their AK-47 assault rifles fanned out near the museum as anti-government protesters sought to build makeshift barricades to keep their foes at bay. And eventually, several tanks maneuverered into position between the two clashing crowds, and soldiers tried to calm both.
Some anti-government protesters used the shelter of the tanks to launch rocks, and others said they believed their foes were agents of the authorities. At one point, they began calling for the soldiers to fire into the air to disperse their opponents.
Mohamed Gmail, a 30-year-old dentist in the crowd of anti-government protesters, said their enemies wanted to “take the revolution from us.”
“Never, never, never,” he cried. “We are ready to die for the revolution.”
Pro-government demonstrators, too, vowed a fight to the end.
“With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you, oh Mubarak,” some of the president’s supporters chanted, waving Egyptian flags. Among the pro-government demonstrators, 18 men on horseback and two on camels charged against their adversaries.
Earlier, on state television, a military spokesman had asked the government’s foes: “Can we walk safely down the street? Can we go back to work regularly? Can we go out into the streets with our children to schools and universities? Can we open our stores, factories and clubs?”
“You are the ones able to restore normal life,” he said.
“Your message was received and we know your demands,” the spokesman said. “We are with you and for you.”
The army’s role and its ultimate game plan have remained opaque, with soldiers seeming to fraternize with protesters, without moving against the elite to which its officers belong. While the military has said it will not use force against peaceful protesters, the signs on Wednesday suggested that any gap between it and Mr. Mubarak was narrowing.
The announcement by a military spokesman appeared to be a call for demonstrators, who have turned out in hundreds of thousands in recent days, to leave the streets. Messages sent to Egyptian cell phone users on Wednesday seemed intended to reinforce the official line. “Youth of Egypt beware of the rumours and listen to the voice of reason,” read one message. “Egypt is above all. Preserve it.”
Hundreds of pro-Mubarak protesters converged on a square in the upscale Mohandiseen neighbourhood on Wednesday morning, many of them carrying identical signs and banners praising the Egyptian president. Others carried a gold-framed portrait of him