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|Subject: Demonstrations turn violent as pro-Mubarak crowd clashes with protesters Thu Feb 03, 2011 9:29 am|| |
Demonstrations turn violent as pro-Mubarak crowd clashes with protesters
By Will Englundand Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 3, 2011
CAIRO - Whipped up by state television and spoiling for a fight,
thousands of supporters of President Hosni Mubarak flooded into the
center of Egypt's capital Wednesday, sparking violent clashes that
shifted the momentum in a political confrontation that has gripped the
region and the world.
By late afternoon, they were engaged in a pitched battle with Mubarak's
opponents on a street alongside the Egyptian Museum, while the army
mostly stood by. The president's supporters fueled the showdown with a
charge by men riding camels and horses, wielding whips and clubs. Both
sides then went at it with rocks, sticks and firebombs.
The violence came after the army had urged pro-democracy demonstrators
to go home, saying Mubarak's pledge the previous night to hand over
power this fall showed that their voices had been heard. The coordinated
nature of Wednesday's events suggested that his supporters were
determined to show, as Mubarak had warned, that the country faced a
"choice between chaos and stability."
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the violence
"outrageous and deplorable" and warned that if any of it was "instigated
by the government, it should stop immediately." Mubarak's opponents
said they would not back down from their quest to force him from office.
But Mubarak loyalists seemed to be pushing back with new vigor. Omar
Suleiman, the new vice president, said there would be no dialogue with
the opposition until the protests stopped, while Egypt's Foreign
Ministry said that calls from Washington and other capitals for
Mubarak's swift exit were intended to "incite the internal situation" in
Hospitals reported that three people had been killed and more than 600
injured in the clashes. Many other wounded were taken to a makeshift
first-aid center, set up in a nearby mosque. At one point in the
evening, dozens of ambulances waited near the edges of the
confrontation, but doctors said they were having difficulty getting
access to the wounded.
Mubarak's supporters, seemingly energized by his announcement Tuesday,
essentially laid siege to Tahrir Square, where for nine days protesters
calling for the president's ouster have claimed the attention of Egypt,
the Middle East and the rest of the world.
Anchors on state-run television heavily promoted the "pro-stability"
rally, and buses and trucks dropped off loads of government backers at
sites downtown. The owners of a factory said they had been told by the
ruling National Democratic Party to mobilize their workers for the
demonstration, a move that has been a standard practice here for
decades. Many who took to the streets appeared to have come prepared for
the vicious fight that ensued.
The Internet, which had been cut off for most of the past week, came
back on in late morning; some anti-government demonstrators suspected
that it was used to help coordinate the counter-rally. The night before,
the army had sent text messages to Egyptians calling on them to protect
their country from destruction.
Pro-democracy demonstrators alleged that their foes were paid to take to
the streets by the ruling party, by the police or by wealthy
businessmen with deep ties to the government. All of those elements, the
protesters say, are sufficiently desperate to take extreme measures.
The Interior Ministry denied the accusation, and interviews with those
who turned out in favor of Mubarak suggested that they genuinely support
The Obama administration avoided accusing Mubarak's government of
directly authorizing the attacks, but one senior administration official
in Washington described the onslaught as "classic ruling-party
The thousands of Mubarak supporters who participated were boisterous and
aggressive. Frequent chants attacked pro-democracy leader Mohamed
ElBaradei as an American puppet, and al-Jazeera, the satellite
television network based in Qatar, as a tool of Iran. Journalists who
were thought to be working for al-Jazeera were threatened or roughed up.
But their dedication to the cause didn't seem to match that of their
opponents; as the evening wore on, their numbers dwindled sharply. The
battle diminished, and the anti-Mubarak protesters continued to occupy
Some Mubarak supporters praised him as the father of the nation and said
they couldn't imagine Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country,
without him. "We're behind you whatever you say, wherever you go," said
But others offered a more complicated motivation. Gamal Abu el-Ela said
he sympathized with the anti-government protesters. "But this uprising
has succeeded and delivered its message," he said. "We want freedom and
transparent elections, but now we have to give the ruling party the
chance to implement this reform."
And some were touched by Mubarak's avowal, in his Tuesday night address,
that he would die in Egypt. Gamal Hamzan, an emergency room doctor at
Kasr El Aini Hospital, said that Mubarak, 82, is an old man and that it
is un-Egyptian to insult the elderly.
Rocks and firebombs
Just after 1 p.m., Mubarak supporters, who had been pouring into the
center of Cairo since late morning, rushed through security checkpoints
that had been set up by protesters at Tahrir Square. They chanted
pro-Mubarak slogans and pushed forward. Pro-democracy demonstrators
nearby held up a sign that read "Welcome to Martyrs' Square," in a nod
to the more than 150 people who had been killed in the past nine days.
The scene quickly turned violent as the two camps confronted each other.
Supporters of the government, some carrying sticks, threw rocks into
the crowd of their rivals, who threw rocks back as people rushed in
Women and children ran for cover. A teenage boy carrying koshari, a
traditional Egyptian dish, was beaten for taking food to critics of
Eventually, members of the military fired into the air to disperse the
crowd. Two military vehicles were used to separate the demonstrators,
but rock-throwing continued.
In the evening darkness, gasoline bombs came dropping down from the roof
of an 11-story building across the street from the Egyptian Museum -
apparently from the hands of anti-Mubarak protesters. Other firebombs
fell from a shorter building next door, which seemed to be held by their
opponents. Sometimes the two groups lobbed bombs at each other.
Their flames glowed brilliantly in the night, and they sent dark smoke
into the air, but it was difficult to tell if they did much damage. The
sounds of gunfire and explosions continued late into the night.
Mohammed Shahad, who was in the pro-government group, said unprompted,
"Nobody told me to come here. Nobody paid me to come here."
"Mubarak is the only person of honor in this country," he added. "The only person that can save this country."
Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.