CAIRO: A Downtown demonstration against controversial amendments to the constitution was suppressed in a violent crackdown on Sunday, as hundreds of state security riot police and thugs under their command beat and detained a crowd of several hundred pro-democracy activists and journalists.
Among those assaulted was 20-year old political activist Salma Said who was beaten and kicked in the stomach by the thugs.
“They beat me and screamed at me. I kept telling them to stop, Said told The Daily Star Egypt, crying.
Activists from across the political spectrum planned to hold a rally in Tahrir Square at 6 pm, but the area was filled with thugs and baton-wielding police from the early morning hours. Downtown was filled with more than 50 military transport vehicles. A crowd of over 200 loud protestors began marching up Talaat Harb Street chanting “Down with Hosni Mubarak! As they approached the square, the demonstrators were crushed by police and thugs.
About a dozen protestors, including journalists, were herded into a tight security perimeter on the corner of the square, where they were and physically assaulted.
“Help me, please help me, screamed one woman inside the perimeter. “I can’t breath.
Police pulled foreigners out of the crowd and confiscated cameras and memory sticks from journalists and by-standers, then began to beat the remaining Egyptians more harshly than before.
According to witnesses, several demonstrators passed out inside the tight ring and the air in Talaat Harb was filled with screams.
“When people were trying to go to the actual square where the sit-in was supposed to be, the police surrounded them and started to beat them up, said Miral, a student. “When people started walking away from the square the police surrounded them and kept beating them up.
“I could hear girls screaming for 15 minutes but I couldn’t see them, I could just see police officers surrounding all the protestors, she continued. “Then they brought a big police truck and filled it with protestors, and they took them all and left.
Police arrested between 10 and 20 demonstrators, including blogger Malek Mustafa, leftist activist Adham El-Safty, blogger Omar El-Hadi, blogger Mohamed Gamal, activist Ahmed Droubi, blogger Kareem El-Sha’er, blogger Omar Mustafa, and journalist Jano Charbel.
At press time, several detainees, including Mustafa and Charbel, were released in remote locations in the outskirts of Cairo. Most of the current detainees are held in undisclosed locations.
Human rights activists expressed particular concern for the welfare of Ahmed Droubi, a diabetic without access to necessary medication while in police custody
Activist and blogger who writes under the alias Sandmonkey witnessed the assaults and arrest of his friends and colleagues.
“I saw them beat and arrest my friend Malek Mustafa and a group of young girls, he said, preferring to remain anonymous for personal security. “It’s disgusting.
Following the confrontations in Talaat Harb, a crowd of 250 activists gathered on the steps in front of the press syndicate, where they chanted slogans and waved banners.
The adjacent street was filled with hundreds of riot police and thugs, who encircled the demonstrators. Outside the headquarters of Al Ghad Party many activists and party members were barricaded inside their Talaat Harb offices for the duration of the protest.
A crowd of roughly 30 thugs, commanded by two uniformed police officers, blocked the entrance to the building, which also houses the Greek Club restaurant. No one was allowed to enter or leave.
“We simply have no freedom here, said Sarah Gemeinder, a student. Although she is not a member of Al Ghad, she was trying to enter the building to be with activist friends trapped inside.
“They are not even allowing me to go up to the Greek Club, she exclaimed on the sidewalk. “These guys say they are low grade officers, but they don’t even have any badges or identity cards, nothing at all to say who they are. So obviously they are not police, they are just bought off.
Every major opposition movement opposes the amendments, which Amnesty International has called the “most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt since the state of emergency began at the start of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a nationwide boycott of yesterday’s referendum.
“Based on these amendments, unless God shows mercy on us, the future for this country is dark, said Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef in an interview with Reuters.
“It’s 100 percent rigged, he continued. “Watch the balloting stations tomorrow. It’ll succeed. [Egypt] has armies of civil servants and factory workers [to vote in favor].
Activists argue that the constitutional changes undermine nascent democratic reforms made in the past several years.
Among the most controversial amendments are those banning political activity based on religion, seen as a direct attack on the Muslim Brotherhood; reducing judicial oversight of elections, after Judicial whistle blowing on vote-rigging in 2005; and giving the President wide-reaching security powers including the authority to transfer civilians to military courts, which offer no appeals.
“The proposed amendments limit the freedom of the Egyptian people and strip them of their rights, said Magdi Hassan, a member of Al Ghad. “The only people who will gain from the new laws are Mubarak and businessmen. The Egyptian people will only keep suffering.