Thousands rally in Tahrir Square as protests continue against military government

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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

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