Vicious assault on a march from Tahrir

July 28, 2011

A mass march from Tahrir Square to protest Egypt's military rulers came under attack on July 23. The demonstrators were marching toward the headquarters of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since the downfall of dictator Hosni Mubarak in February.

In a poor neighborhood of Cairo called Abbasiyah, they were blocked from continuing by a cordon of military vehicles and soldiers. The protesters were then attacked by gangs armed with knives--a hail of rocks, broken bottles and Molotov cocktails fell on marchers from surrounding crowds and rooftops. The scene was reminiscent of the brutal attack on the occupation of Tahrir Square in early February, a last bid by the Mubarak regime to hold onto power.

Varying accounts put the number of dead in the July 23 protest at between one and seven, though the real toll might be higher still. At least 300 people were reported injured.

The attack comes as the Egyptian revolution has reached a new stage. Bitterness with the failure of the Supreme Council to meet the demands of the revolution led to a return to mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square in July. The symbolic heart of the revolution was packed with people once again for a "Friday of Persistence" rally on July 8. Activists have continued to occupy Tahrir in the weeks since.

But the regime, while unable to move frontally against demonstrators, has kept up a propaganda campaign against strikes and protests for "endangering" Egypt's future. Meanwhile, some of the forces that were part of the movement against Mubarak are backing the Supreme Council. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood--the largest political organization in the country--has called for a "Friday of Stability" mobilization on July 29 to support the Supreme Council. Activists consider this a provocation against the renewed Tahrir occupation.

Here, a socialist reports from Cairo on the assault on the July 23 march and what comes next.

THOUSANDS OF people participated in a mass march from Tahrir Square toward the headquarters of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces on Saturday, July 23.

But the march came to a premature halt in the early evening when protesters were met by a military blockade of armored vehicles and hundreds of soldiers. Insistent on making their demands heard, the protesters continued to speak out with rounds of chanting to denounce the lack of reforms and delayed justice for the martyrs of the January uprising.

The demonstration then took a further perilous turn. Stones and broken glass hailed down on the marchers from a crowd to the east and south of the demonstrators and from the rooftops of surrounding buildings. Any sympathy for the army quickly disappeared as soldiers remained indifferent to the onslaught against unarmed and peaceful demonstrators.

Police and security forces in plain clothes participated in the attack on the march, as it was penned in between a mosque, residential buildings and the military cordon across the street. The attackers increased in numbers as the evening progressed, with bottles and stones thrown from every corner of the surrounding area, even from behind the gates of the mosque.

A mass march from Tahrir Square is blocked by military vehicles and soldiers
A mass march from Tahrir Square is blocked by military vehicles and soldiers (Bronwyn Roe | SW)

Activists later learned that local residents and business owners in the neighborhood were warned, via news reports and printed leaflets, that armed and militant protesters were descending on the neighborhood to wreak havoc and turn back the progress of the revolution. Thus, the military planted the seeds of mistrust and anger among local residents, leading them to believe they were protecting both their homes and the future of the nation.

The army's blockade that forced the marchers to stop was carefully chosen. The military was able to claim their hands were clean because the dirty work had been handed over in advance to paid thugs and riled-up neighborhood residents.

The demonstrators attempted to call for calm, but the intensification of the assault, with more stones followed by Molotov cocktails, made nonviolence untenable. The marchers had no other choice but to attempt to defend themselves from attack.

At this point, soldiers responded to the pitched battle by firing live ammunition into the air. The bullets did more than cause further havoc among protesters--several people were injured and one person reportedly killed from wounds sustained from bullets falling back to the ground.

With the attack from all sides continuing, the marchers showed their resourcefulness by organizing makeshift treatment centers, coordinating the distribution of water and maintaining the defense of the protesters.

As tensions reached a high point, some men on the march insisted that women should take shelter. But the women stood their ground and refused to retreat. Instead, they joined the men in ripping up sidewalks and sections of concretes, which were thrown to break manageable pieces that could be used as projectiles against the thugs. Others gathered emptied garbage bins and filled them with stones to be brought to the front.

Later in the evening, the troops fired tear gas into the crowd of marchers, and the protesters were able to return to Tahrir.

Through the course of the evening, anger at the Supreme Council reached a new pitch. Many people on the march believe this was a premeditated trap set by the army--a clear counter-attack by the military in an attempt to break the will and resolve of those holding Tahrir Square.

The propaganda from the military against the continuing demonstrations is intense, and the attack on the Saturday demonstration shows the violence that counter-revolutionary forces are ready to unleash. Those on the side of the revolution need to respond with organization and a political understanding of what needs to be done now.

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