Thousands rally in Tahrir Square as protests continue against military government

A full-scale revolt is threatening Egypt’s ruling military government as tens of thousands of Egyptians pack Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling for the dissolution of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and a quick transition to civilian rule. Demonstrations have also been reported in a number of other Egyptian cities. Protesters are angry at the slow pace of change in Egypt following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak early this year and at continued human rights abuses directed at activists and civilians. The unrest started over the weekend when a crackdown on anti-SCAF protests in Tahrir quickly escalated into full-scale street battles. An estimated 38 people have been killed since Saturday, and thousands more have been wounded.

Yesterday, SCAF accepted the resignation of Essam Sharaf’s cabinet, and agreed to “name a new civilian cabinet…[and] speed up the transition to civilian rule, with a new constitution and a presidential election no later than June 2012.”

Follow this space for more news updates about Egypt from Mondoweiss. All times are EST.

November 23, 2011

11:40 AM: The AP and McClatchy are reporting on the official Israeli reaction to the unrest in Egypt–and not surprisingly, it’s negative. What remains clear is that true democracy in Egypt will further isolate Israel as long as Palestinians are denied freedom.  From the AP:

Israel expects a “grave erosion” in its peace agreement with Egypt and is even preparing for the possibility of the historic deal collapsing altogether, a Cabinet minister said Wednesday, in the first official assessment of the unrest rocking Israel’s southern neighbor.

The comments by Matan Vilnai, the minister for civil defense and a retired military general, reflected the government’s grave concerns that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood could make major gains and even win elections in Egypt that begin next week.

“The picture is quite clear. We’ve been saying it for months. Apparently what we call the Muslim Brotherhood … will ultimately be the majority in all the (Egyptian) institutions,” Vilnai told Israel’s Army Radio station.

[...]

Vilnai said he did not expect the peace agreement to unravel immediately since Egypt’s post-revolution government will be preoccupied with domestic issues.

“But once the regime stabilizes, as we expect it to do, we expect that there will be a grave erosion of this agreement. And we have to prepare for such a situation,” Vilnai said.

Israeli worries have been heightened by five days of mass protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities demanding the ruling military immediately step aside and hand power to a civilian government. Nearly 40 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters.

Egypt’s military insists the violence will not prevent the beginning of parliamentary elections on Monday. The Brotherhood, eager to ensure that elections take place, has refused to join the new demonstrations, which have been led by liberal and secular activists.

Israel has favored the military’s domination in Egypt, since the generals are a bulwark of support for the peace accord — not least because the army receives nearly $1 billion a year from the United States under the deal.

Sheera Frenkel has more on the reaction from Israel in McClatchy, reporting that the Israeli ambassador to Egypt “flew out of Cairo International Airport for the last time, ending his time in Cairo without a departure ceremony or even a nod of farewell from Egypt’s foreign ministry.”  More:

“This is the state of relations now. There is no real diplomacy, just shuttling back and forth and talks at a bare minimum,” said an official from Israel’s foreign ministry, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the issue. “At least we still have relations.”

Perhaps not for long. Officials said they are quietly preparing for what they called a “complete break” in diplomatic ties with Egypt. That would mark a dangerous downturn in Israel’s relations with its neighbors unequalled in the past three decades.

“Our peace treaty with Egypt was the backbone of our diplomatic relations with the Arab world,” said former ambassador Eli Shaked.

Even as events were unfolding Tuesday in Egypt, where the military government offered to step down in July, a concession thought unlikely to satisfy the tens of thousands of demonstrators who crowded into Tahrir Square, Israeli officials were considering it likely that whatever eventually happens there will bode ill for Israel.

10:30 AM: My Twitter feed is full of reports that the fighting in Cairo has restarted.  Follow the hashtags #Tahrir and #Cairo for breaking news.

9:30 AM: Cairo-based Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports on Twitter that the fighting between security forces and protesters has stopped, and that demonstrators remain in Tahrir Square.

Now, the fallout begins.

Egyptian parliamentary elections were scheduled to begin next Monday, and Tantawi’s deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, much derided by protesters, keeps elections scheduled to that date. But some liberal and leftist protesters in Egypt argue that, with so much violence, elections should be delayed. Those protesters also fear that the Brotherhood will reap gains in the elections due to their organizational prowess.

November 22, 2011

8:45 PM: Protesters remain in Tahrir Square, according to Al Jazeera, while intense battles rage in the city of Alexandria. Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh spoke to the television channel earlier today from Alexandria:

Meanwhile, solidarity rallies from New York to Ramallah were held. Palestinian activist Abir Kopty blogged on the Ramallah rally:

Palestinian youth took today Tuesday, November 22nd to the street for a demo at Almanarah square in Ramallah to support Egyptian revolution, take two.

Hundreds of people showed up, we walked the streets chanting in support of Egyptians and all other revolutions. The chant “Down with military rule, down with all military rules” was loud and powerful.

It was important for us to hold this demo in parallel to the “Million people” march happening in Egypt today.

This is not the first and will not be the last, we hold in support of our Arab peers, we took to the streets to support the Tunisians, and continued to go out in support of Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis, Bahrainis and any actions striking for dignity and freedom.

3:00 PM: Here is a feed of Twitter accounts tweeting from Egypt with the developing news and on the ground reports:

 

2:45 PM: While the protesters’ reaction to Tantawi’s speech was overwhelmingly negative, the reaction outside Tahrir has been more mixed. Blogger and activist Mahmoud Salem, who goes under the Twitter moniker @Sandmonkey, reports:

Picture 2
 

Erin Cunningham, writing for the Global Post, reports on the mood outside of Tahrir:

It is a conspicuously quiet morning in the upscale Cairo hamlet of Zamalek, perched on a breezy island in the Nile River where the city’s well-heeled young sip expensive designer lattes at global coffee-shop chains.

For many of the wealthy residents here, the violence at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where thousands of anti-government protesters have squared off in deadly battles with police forces for four days, could not be further away.

It is a surreal and in some ways uncomfortable reality for both demonstrators and observers to encounter: While several streets in downtown Cairo have transformed into a veritable battlefield, with volleys of potent tear gas, gunfire and Molotov cocktails puncturing daily life and leaving at least 30 protesters dead, the majority of this 20 million-strong city is going about its business as usual.

2:05 PM: Here is slideshow of amazing photographs from yesterday in Tahrir from Maggie Osama who has been documenting the protests on Flickr:

1:45 PM: If you want to know why some Egyptians are so incensed at their military government, read this Amnesty International report released yesterday:

Egypt’s military rulers have completely failed to live up to their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights and have instead been responsible for a catalogue of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

In Broken Promises: Egypt’s Military Rulers Erode Human Rights, the organization documents a woeful performance on human rights by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which assumed power after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The report’s release follows a bloody few days in Egypt that has left many dead and hundreds injured after army and security forces violently attempted to disperse anti-SCAF protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir square.

“By using military courts to try thousands of civilians, cracking down on peaceful protest and expanding the remit of Mubarak’s Emergency Law, the SCAF has continued the tradition of repressive rule which the January 25 demonstrators fought so hard to get rid of,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Acting Director.

1:15 PM: Tantawi’s speech (see below) is being met with anger and derision from the Tahrir protesters. Al Jazeera English (see the live video at the top of the post) broadcast sound and images showing demonstrators chanting “irhal,” or leave in Arabic, in response. As many others pointed out, the scenes are all too reminiscent of the uprising that brought down Mubarak early this year.

egyptprotest
Egyptian demonstrators face off against security forces (Photo: Jonathan Rashad/Flickr)

12:55 PM: Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of Egypt’s military, has just finished delivering a speech on Egyptian state television. Al Jazeera English’s liveblog has the run-down:

In his speech, he defended the military’s conduct and said the army would never kill an Egyptian citizen.

He also confirmed reports we have been hearing all night, saying that parliamentary elections will be held on time on Monday and that presidential elections will follow by July, leading to the departure of the SCAF. Tantawi also said the military would give up power and return to its barracks if the people approved such a move in a national referendum.

Tantawi
Photo: Al Jazeera English

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Arab Spring, Egypt, Middle East, US Policy in the Middle East | Tagged , , ,

{ 18 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. HarryLaw says:

    The Revolution will only be complete when sovereignty resides with the people and through their representatives have complete control over the military. With the military in control over any aspect of the government, you could say the United States has control, thats why Obama is so circumspect

  2. tod says:

    All my heart and thoughts are with the people of Egypt. No matter if they succeed or not, they already won a place in my heart. I’ve never ever been so impressed by anyone. Such determination in the face of such odds is legendary. If I would believe in God I’d prayed for them to win. They deserve it more than any other people in my lifetime.

  3. yourstruly says:

    so what if the upper-middle class youth in some restaurant along the nile are oblivious to what’s happening in tahrir square. so long as the 99% are with the revolution, that’s what matters. here in america, what can the 99% do to help the 99% in egypt? pressure our government to do everything it can to stop the egyptian military’s violence against the people, along with demanding that police/fbi/so-called homeland security show similar restraint re: the occupy movement here at home. solidarity with all the oppressed people on earth, after all, isn’t this what the moment calls for, especially when the tear gas used in tahrir square happens to be u.s. made?

  4. VR says:

    I too have great respect for the Egyptian people, however asking one leader after another to step down is not going to change much. In short, the whole system must be uprooted and the current government must be disbanded. In other words, revolution in the true sense of the word. Anyone who thinks this is a non-violent activity, what is taking place in Egypt today is not aware of the facts, since the Maspero massacre there have been uncountable counter-revolutionary assaults on the Egyptian people – and they must be answered for. Look carefully at a post by Max Ajl, another letter from the front –

    DISPATCH FROM EGYPT: REVOLUTION 2.0

  5. Sin Nombre says:

    And while “thousands rally in Tahrir Square,” only a few less were rallying in Joe Biden’s office it appears, on behalf of releasing Jonathan Pollard. According to the J-Post:

    “Those in attendance included Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman Michael Adler, a community leader from Miami, Florida; Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Dr. Simcha Katz, President, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism.”

    So much for the argument heard in the immediate wake of Pollard’s arrest, conviction and sentencing that the mainstream jewish community in the U.S. didn’t support him… Apparently it’s just a matter of waiting until the heat dies down and things can be done more quietly.

    Quiet shilling for a traitor: What next?

    • Not that Obama is playing this genius game, but I think the best thing is for the lobby to finally overstep (well, more than they have), and then patriotic Americans can inspect it and shake it off. So oddly, if Pollard is freed, I only see it as a net benefit (the only downside is an old atrocious criminal traitor lives out his days in Israel; whatever). In fact, that so many are lobbying for his release reveals the biggest flaw in the current Zionist power player game- drunk on power they no longer care about treading softly, working behind the scenes, and lobbying for the things they really need. To lobby for Pollard’s release in this high profile manner is absurd, and I say go for it, get the pyrrhic victory.

      If he is freed the MSM will talk of it, and many people will inspect his crimes and how the lobby got him freed. Nothing but good can come from such inspection… It will serve as another crack in the lobby and further increase open talk about right wing Jewish/Zionist and Israeli influence.

      Of course, the other way the lobby oversteps is by playing a key role in instigating war with Iran, but that might break the US in the end, hence why I think we may resist any nutty war with Iran. Zionists have influence, but a lot of sane people in the military got their senses back after Iraq, and Iran is a different game altogether. The lobby can get us to go against our interests, but I don’t *think* they can get us to commit what might amount to national suicide.

  6. ToivoS says:

    Guardian has a story on the arrested American student in Cairo that leaves you scratching your head:

    link to guardian.co.uk

    He was arrested for throwing molotov cocktails at the police and he is a Republican Party activist! I guess he missed their training session on Gandhian nonviolent resistance.

    • annie says:

      sounding very fishy

      Derrick, who is studying Arabic in the hope it would help a career in law and the military, worked on Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2008, but switched allegiances and interned this year with Republican congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer in Washington.

      a republican congressman from missouri. ah huh. sounds like training for the cia.

  7. annie says:

    the most alaming stuff pouring in on my twitter feed is about alexandria right now.

  8. kalithea says:

    Who do you think is funding the Egyptian military and bribing them to hi-jack the Revolution in Egypt???

    F-Israel! F-U.S.!

  9. Taxi says:

    Be nervous israel, be very nervous.

  10. Les says:

    Not everyone agrees that ending military rule in Egypt is bad for Israel. Belief in the Muslim bogeyman can warp a person’s thinking.

    Marc Ginsberg [without his thinking cap]

    Unholy Alliance: Egypt’s Military & The Muslim Brotherhood
    Posted: 11/23/11 06:49 AM ET

    “Despite protestations of its purported political neutrality Egypt’s besieged military leadership has been secretly funneling financial, food, and security support to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its allied Salafist parties in the run up to next week’s parliamentary elections.”

    Ginsberg misses that the feared Muslim Brotherhood is committing political suicide by not participating. He also fails to notice that the West Wall of the Gaza Concentration Camp has not yet come down because the Brotherhood and the military have been collaborating.

    link to huffingtonpost.com

  11. American says:

    If USA OWS can persevere they might face the same kind of military state the Egyptians are facing. Our para military police overstep, someone apologizes and then they do it again.

    link to readersupportednews.org

    ‘An eighty-four-year-old woman is looking straight into a camera. Her eyes are wide, her mouth is agape, and she is drenched in a filmy white fluid: it flattens her white billowing hair, it glazes her flushed cheeks, it runs off her chin onto her scarf. This is Dorli Rainey, minutes after being doused with pepper spray by police at an Occupy Seattle protest on Tuesday. Joshua Trujillo shot the picture for seattlepi.com. Trujillo also took pictures of the police doing the dousing—hosing the protesters down with what look like fire extinguishers full of the noxious, blinding, stinging pepper spray. And he took pictures of a woman, who called herself Jennifer and said she was two months pregnant, being carried to safety by a fellow protester after the pepper spray disabled her, then being treated by medics at the edge of the action. Trujillo’s pictures of these women—the octogenarian and the expecting mother—were all over the Occupy Wall Street Twitter streams: @OccupyWallSt, @occupyoakland, @occupyarrests, and the like. And they were just the latest images of the shocking and apparently gratuitous violence visited by our police on nonviolent protesters in one American city after another over the past several months. ‘

  12. Kathleen says:

    “Israel expects a “grave erosion” in its peace agreement with Egypt and is even preparing for the possibility of the historic deal collapsing altogether, a Cabinet minister said Wednesday, in the first official assessment of the unrest rocking Israel’s southern neighbor.”

    “Perhaps not for long. Officials said they are quietly preparing for what they called a “complete break” in diplomatic ties with Egypt. That would mark a dangerous downturn in Israel’s relations with its neighbors unequalled in the past three decades.”

    And all Israel needs to do is abide by international agreements, stop expanding and building illegal settlements and illegal housing in E Jerusalem to protect Israel based on the 67 border. Seems as if they are on a path of self destruction.

  13. American says:

    There is something else catching up with Israel…..the global economic woes. Germany, haivng been the strongest eco. is now worrying about feeling the pinch themselves and they have aways had trade protection policies. Countries are trying to limit their trade deficits which is not good for a country like Israel where 50% of their economy is dependent on exports…and imported gas and oil. Their imports into the US went down about 12% and with EU went up about 1.5%. From other news Israel appears to be searching out 3thy world countries like some in Africa to increase their business. Their bank is warning of recession. I haven’t ever been able to figure out the Israel economy, maybe Krugman can explain it, but they go from bust to flush and back again in amazingly short periods of time. In 2003 they were so broke the US had to guarantee billions of their debt–then suddenly in 2005 the Israel gov declared a huge surplus.
    Looking the latest CIA fact sheet for 2011 50% of Israel’s debt is owed to the US…which makes it even more ridiculous that the US credit rating was lowered and Israel’s was raised. It’s crazy, you can’t believe anything by anyone because everyone/every reporting entity is screwing information based on their own agenda or a political agenda.

    August 2011
    Trade deficit triples
    Rising fuel prices and lower exports sent the trade deficit to $8.6 billion in January-July from $2.8 billion in the first half of last year.
    11 August 11 15:42,
    Israel’s trade deficit in January-July 2011 tripled to $8.6 billion from $2.8 billion in January-July 2011, mainly due to the rise in fuel prices, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported.
    The trade deficit rose to NIS 5.7 billion in July. The trade deficit averaged NIS 4.3 billion a month in January-July reflecting an all-time of NIS 51.4 billion in annual terms, compared with NIS 29 billion in 2010. Imports totaled NIS 22.7 billion in July and exports totaled NIS 16.9 billion.

    Industrial exports fell by an annualized 9% in May-July 2011, after rising by an annualized 5% in February April, highlighting exporters’ worries. High-tech exports, half of industrial exports, fell by an annualized 11% in May-July, after falling 1% in the preceding three months.

    A breakdown of exports by high-tech subsectors shows that exports of electronic components fell by an annualized 41% in May-July, and exports of communications, scientific, medical, and control equipment fell 12%; exports.

    Exports of mid-low technology exports, 17% of all industrial exports, fell by an annualized 17% in May-July. Exports of mid high-tech exports (such as chemicals), 30% of all industrial exports, rose by an annualized 5% in May-July, down from the annualized rate of 23% in February-April.

    Now in Nov 2011
    JERUSALEM, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Israel’s foreign trade deficit swelled to $1.9 billion in October from $805 million in September and $1.6 billion a year earlier, the Central Bureau of Statistics said on Sunday. In the first 10 months of the year the deficit totalled $12.8 billion compared with $6.2 billion a year earlier. * In 2010, the deficit jumped to $7.8 billion from $4.9 billion a year earlier, which was the lowest level since 1990.

  14. “U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford (left) is, according to reliable sources, the key State Department official who has been responsible for recruiting Arab “death squads” from Al Qaeda-affiliated (CIA funded) units in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Chechnya to fight against Syrian military and police forces in embattled Syria.]

    The West is doing its best to destabilize the situation in Syria, author and journalist Webster Tarpley told RT. According to him, civilians have to deal with death squads and blind terrorism, which is typical of the CIA.

    “What average Syrians of all ethnic groups say about this is that they are being shot at by snipers. People complained that there are terrorist snipers who are shooting at civilians, blind terrorism simply for the purpose of destabilizing the country. I would not call this civil war – it is a very misleading term. What you are dealing with here are death squads, you are dealing with terror commandos; this is a typical CIA method. In this case it’s a joint production of CIA, MI6, Mossad, it’s got money coming from Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and Qatar,” he explained.

    He added that Syrian society is the most tolerant society in the Middle East, the one place where all kinds of people live together in remarkable harmony, Muslims and Christians of all kinds.

    “This is a model of a peaceful coexistence of various ethnic groups. The US policy right now is to smash the Middle East according to ethnic lines,” he added.

    Assad’s rule is increasingly being called illegitimate. But the US and Europe do not seem concerned that getting rid of the Syrian president could cause even more violence, as was seen in Egypt, believes Tarpley.

    “After Libya becoming a bloodbath with 150.000 dead and now with Egypt showing what it was all along – there was no revolution there, it was a complete failure and now people are beginning to understand that. Still, Mrs Clinton and Ms Rice (sic) continue to push this bankrupt model of the colour revolution, backed up by terrorist troops – people from Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a growing movement inside the Islamic community, which says ‘We want reconciliation, we want law and order, and we want legality’,” he said.
    link to voltairenet.org

  15. Pretty important information!!!!!!!!!!!
    “Icelanders made the government– which tried under the dictation of world finance sharks, impoverish the nation according to the script, which is currently “remodeled” by Greece–,to hand its complete resignation !
    Iceland’s main banks were nationalized and the inhabitants decided unanimously to declare insolvency of the debt that was incurred by private banks in the UK and the Netherlands.
    Also the National Assembly was established to re-write the constitution.
    All of this was done in a peaceful manner!! It’s a real revolution against the government, which led to the current financial collapse of Iceland.
    Certainly you might wonder, why these events have not been widely publicized?
    The answer to this question leads to another question: What would happen if the rest of the European nations took the example of Iceland?

    Here is a brief chronology of the facts:

    September 2008:! – Nationalization of the most important bank in Iceland, Glitnir Bank, resulting in the stock market crashes ,and the bankrupcy of the country is declared .
    January 2009: People ‘s protests cause parliament’s Prime Minister Geir Haarde to resign, as well as the whole Social Democratic government, and early elections.
    The economic situation is still bad, and the Parliament Act decided that private debts to private banks (the British and Dutch banks), which is 3,5 billions, Icelandic families should pay for 15 years at a rate of 5.5 percent.
    In response to this, the second stage a peaceful revolution started.
    Beginning of 2010: People of Iceland occupy squares and streets again,
    demanding the referendum in the above matter.
    February 2010: President Olafur Grimsson vetoed the bill proposed by the Parliament and announced a national referendum ,in which 93 percent of voters were in favor of defaults on that debt.
    In the meantime, the government ordered a judicial inquiry to determine those responsible for bringing about a crisis occurring. Arrest warrants are issued for the bankers, who “wisely” fled in advance from Iceland.
    In this crisis moment the assembly is called to write a new constitution, which takes into account lessons from the newly “redone lesson”.
    To this end, 25 people are chosen, free from any party affiliation, out of the 522 who came to participate( criterion for the selection of “25″ apart from not having membership to any party – was a “proper” age and presentation of 30 signatures in support from other people).
    This new constitutional council began to work in February, and their work supposed to with end –with the presentation and submission to a vote in the forthcoming elections– prepared by it a document called “Magna Carta”.

    Has anyone heard about all this in the European media?
    Have we seen, even a picture of these events in any television program?
    Of course – NOT !
    In this way the Icelanders gave us a lesson of direct democracy and national independence and monetary policy across Europe by peacefully opposing the System.

    Minimum of what we can do is to be aware of what had happened, and make it a “legend” passed from mouth to mouth.
    So far we still have the ability to bypass media and manipulation of information serving the economic interests of large transnational banks and corporations.
    Let’s not waste our time.
    Let’s inform each other about this opportunity, and others, in the future, to be able take similar action ,if necessary.”

    (Source: Based on the article Marco Pali “Storie di ordinaria rivoluzione