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Violence averted during solidarity protests

CAIRO: The much-anticipated “Black Wednesday anniversary went smoothly, as hundreds of Kefaya (Enough) movement and other activists gathered in front of the journalists syndicate. Despite an attempt to march down the road, which was blocked by black clad soldiers, they stayed on the steps and yelled out chants and opposition slogans for hours, Thursday. From …


CAIRO: The much-anticipated “Black Wednesday anniversary went smoothly, as hundreds of Kefaya (Enough) movement and other activists gathered in front of the journalists syndicate. Despite an attempt to march down the road, which was blocked by black clad soldiers, they stayed on the steps and yelled out chants and opposition slogans for hours, Thursday.

From before 11 a.m. demonstrators had gathered at the journalist’ syndicate in order to show their support for the judiciary and their disdain at last year’s events. Always at the top of the list of chants is President Hosni Mubarak.

“Down with Hosni Mubarak, “He who is ruling by force, all the nation feels your oppression, were just a few of the numerous chants that could be heard.

A few hundred activists were assembled at the syndicate, showing their dislike and solidarity for their cause. They wore Kefaya stickers and held banners in the face of thousands of soldiers and plainclothes policeman holding clubs.

Many of the activists also wore buttons that read, in Arabic, “Long live justice, a sign that the judiciary was still on many minds.

“The situation has really gone beyond Kefaya, activist Aida Seif El Dowla argues. “Kefaya has become a slogan that is united everybody who wants to work for change.

Despite the decent size turnout to the syndicate, the atmosphere turned somewhat sour after the soldiers refused to allow the activists to pass through and onto the street.

George Ishaq, head coordinator for Kefaya, tried to calm the people as he argued for patience in their movement.

“Freedom takes time, he says. “We want to go little by little until we have the trust of all the people in this movement.

“The people won’t be afraid again if we keep up our demonstrations and show them there is nothing to be afraid about, Ishaq says, referring to the peaceful nature of the demonstration.

A phone call from El-Bastawisy to the demonstration helped to ignite some emotional outbursts from the activists as they chanted “freedom for judges, freedom for Ayman Nour, freedom for Egypt.

A short while later, a group of judges led by Mahmoud Mekki, one of the judges who had charges dropped against him last week, gathered behind the four deep line of soldiers. This helped bring the judges and activists together.

As they stood and waved, an air of optimism could be felt in the atmosphere as people began to smile and wave at Mekki and the other judges.

“I wish we could go to the street and walk with them, a nearby activist says.

The only incident of violence was when the demonstrators attempted to leave and reach the street. According to one activist, a man in yellow came over and sprayed the group with pepper spray.

“That man sprayed pepper spray at us when we tried to leave, he says, not giving his name.

Despite the optimistic nature of the demonstration, questions were raised to the futility of such endeavors.

“People often use the opposition for their own benefit, even though I am sure that most of them are patriotic and honest, says Dr. Abdel Aziz Saleh, vice-president of the Egyptian Youth Opposition party. “We can’t have that if we are to become large and make real change in this country.

Most notable through their absence was the Muslim Brotherhood, who had galvanized thousands of people over the past month in demonstrations in central Cairo.

“They are respectable and much more organized than the Kefaya led opposition, says Rabab Fahmy, professor and activist. “Frankly, they are better than us in this.

If the activists learned anything from yesterday’s demonstration it was the need to re-evaluate their tactics in the face of growing indifference and the government’s desire to crackdown on such demonstrations. Ishaq, however, was pleased with the day’s events.

“The government didn’t do what happened last May 25, Ishaq says. “It isn’t good to treat people that way and today showed that they might be willing to let peaceful demonstrations go on.

El Dowla called on the government to give up their continued pressure on activism.

“If we are small groups who work for personal interests, then everybody is going to expose us, says El Dowla . “So let the people expose us; why does he [Mubarak] want to do the people’s job? If it’s really so small and insignificant and egocentric then let them be.

Ashraf Abdel Aziz, a Kefaya coordinator in Qena was arrested in that city in the early afternoon. Also, three of the eight activists who had been recently released from prison were detained as they attempted to leave the journalists syndicate. Karim Al Shaer, Mohamed Sharkawy and Ahmed Salim, three leading activists, will once again call prison home in the immediate future.

Yesterday also saw two minor demonstrations at the American University in Cairo and Cairo University, where a few hundred students demonstrated in support of the past months actions.

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