Egyptian Forces, Protesters to Face Off as Cairo Unrest Enters Second Week

Protesters bracing for mass rally at Tahrir Square Friday, up to a million expected; protests escalating against transitional council decision to hold elections next week.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

CAIRO - Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square are bracing for a mass confrontation with the Egyptian army on Friday, with up to a million people expected to flock to the square. Protests continue to escalate against the transitional military council's decision to hold parliamentary elections next week without a firm commitment to transfer power to a civilian leadership.

The transitional military council ruling Egypt apologized on Thursday for the killing of protesters in Tahrir Square over the past five days.

A soldier constructing a barbed wire barricade, near Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday.Credit: AP

"The [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses deep sorrow and apology for the martyrdom of Egyptians [killed] in recent incidents in Tahrir," the council said in a statement on its Facebook page.

Thirty-six people have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters demanding a swift transition to civilian rule, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry.

The council promised to act "swiftly and firmly" to prosecute all those involved in the violence. But the apology failed to impress the tens of thousands of demonstrators filling the square, where an effigy in a military uniform was strung up on a pole. "It's the marshal," one demonstrator shouted, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that has run Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak fell on February 11. The crowd is now demanding Tantawi's resignation.

"As far as we are concerned, Tantawi is like Mubarak's son," another protester said. "There will be no changes here as long as he stays."

The revolutionaries are also demanding the resignation of Chief of Staff Sami Anan and holding aloft portraits of other generals with large red "X" painted across them.

Despite the protesters' anger, the generals who on Thursday apologized for the fatalities at a news conference insisted they would not transfer power to a civilian government until a referendum was held. They did not specify a date for such a referendum.

Soldiers have replaced the police officers at the roadblock on Mohamed Mahmoud Street leading to the Interior Ministry building in Cairo. Earlier on Thursday security forces clashed with protesters, trying to block them from reaching the Interior Ministry, the bastion of power. Thousands of youngsters hurled stones at the police roadblocks, while the police retaliated with rubber bullets and tear gas.

A doctor at the square's first-aid station said four demonstrators had been killed during the night.

One protester, Husam Said, said "the police are also shooting metal bullets and some protesters have already lost their eyes from this."

A truce was reached after prolonged negotiations, and only after soldiers had replaced the police officers.

"The generals are corrupt and won't give up power," said Khaled Yousef, a medical student, "but we still believe the soldiers are our brothers."

The army brought a huge crane that blocked the street with concrete cubes but thousands of youths climbed over the obstacle, shouting "they will go, we will stay." Some of them kissed soldiers, but refused to heed the officers' pleas to return to the square.

A group of sheikhs came to the roadblock and called out to the youngsters to leave. The youths refused to leave, calling instead on Tantawi to "go away."

Eventually a group of doctors in white cloaks climbed onto the roadblock and persuaded the protesters to return to the square. "I'm afraid snipers will shoot at them," said Dr. Suheid Mustafa. "I don't think the soldiers would do it, but the rulers' thugs are certainly able to and we've seen too many fatalities this week."

Many of the revolutionaries blame the Muslim Brotherhood for cooperating with the army against the protest. The Brotherhood is not supporting the demonstrations this week and relatively few Islamists were seen among the crowd in the square.

"The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't care about the revolution, only about their own political interests," said Nabil al-Husseini, an economics graduate who has so far found work only as a driver. "We're disappointed with all the parties since the revolution - none of them confronted the military council properly, but the Muslim Brotherhood is the worst."

Many protesters are calling to put off the elections due on Monday until the military council commits to a date on which it will transfer power to a civilian government. One group that would like to stick to the original election date is the Muslim Brotherhood, which stands to make significant gains in an election, given that they are the most organized political opposition group in Egypt today.

Among the protesters, the elections have lost their relevance. "What are elections worth when the army continues to hold on to power and the police continues to go crazy unchecked?" one protester asked.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הצבא המצרי מתגבר כוחות במעוזי השלטון לקראת הפגנת המיליון



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