CAIRO: Egypt’s state-controlled media has failed to accurately present the events which took place in El-Mahalla last week on April 6 and 7, said participants in a press conference organized by the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo Wednesday.
The rights group – which has been active in the defence of individuals who were arrested all over Egypt following the general strike called for by opposition groups April 6 – invited eyewitnesses who saw what happened in Mahalla during the two days of protests to give their accounts.
Salah Mohamed was shot in the eye when he left work to run an errand.
“I was treated in Mansoura Hospital and handcuffed to the hospital bed for two days, Mohamed said.
“I was then taken to a police station where they forced me to sign a blank charges form.
Ayman Abdel Aziz arrived in Mansoura Hospital at the same time as Mohamed.
“I was walking in Mahalla and found a lot of people congregated in Shoun Square [the town’s central square], Abdel Aziz said. “While I was standing there I was shot twice. One bullet hit my left arm and the other hit me in the eye.
“I was taken to Mansoura Hospital. The police made my family leave and I was interrogated before having an operation on my eye. When I woke up from the anaesthetic I found that I had been handcuffed to the bed.
He continued, “On Tuesday at 4.30 pm I was put in a police truck with two others and taken to a police station. We were eventually allowed to leave on Wednesday at 1.30 am.
It is estimated that over 200 people were arrested in Mahalla alone on the April 6 and 7. According to rights groups, establishing exact numbers has been made difficult because the police and the public prosecution office have in many cases refused to tell lawyers whether their clients were arrested or exactly where they are being detained.
This was confirmed by Rasha Azab, a journalist with El-Ghad newspaper.
She said that the many people injured by police rubber bullets and violence disappeared from the hospital in Mahalla.
It subsequently transpired that they had, as she described it, been “smuggled to neighboring medical facilities in Tanta and Mansoura.
Speakers during the conference suggested that this type of action formed part of a two-pronged effort by the authorities to firstly, hide the number of casualties caused by what Human Rights Watch says may be “unnecessary lethal and excessive force and secondly, present the demonstrations against poverty and increasing food prices as isolated incidents of thug-led rioting.
Al-Ahrar journalist Alaa Shibl pointed to the events which took place in a primary school in Mahalla as evidence of this policy.
“Men went into the school and started trashing the place, breaking some computers while others were stolen, Shibl explained.
“I know some of these men through a previous report I did. They’re well-known criminals in Mahalla and were employed by security bodies to destroy the school and make it look like rioters had done it, he alleged. “I asked one of them ‘why are you doing this? Aren’t you scared of the police?’ He replied, ‘Why should I be scared of the police when I’m one of them?’
Shibl says that the activities of these men were highly organized.
“There were mopeds everywhere in Mahalla on April 6 and 7, they were highly noticeable. They were used to transport thugs around Mahalla and to send orders to them.
According to Shibl, private property damage by demonstrators was limited to shops owned by individuals known as collaborators with security bodies.
“The owner of the Baghl falafel restaurant which was attacked by protestors is known to be extremely close to security bodies as well as a member of the [ruling] National Democratic Party, Shibl alleged.
“He was also targeted because he raised his prices much higher than other places, he continued.
Daily News Egypt was unable to reach the restaurant owner for comment.
El-Dostour journalist Mostafa Bassiouni questioned how Mahalla’s residents could be blamed for rioting and criminal damage when they were sharply outnumbered by riot police.
“I have covered other events like those which took place in Mahalla and I have never seen such a heavy security presence: there were more members of security bodies there than there were residents, Bassiouni said.
“Given that security bodies outnumbered Mahalla’s inhabitants, I think that it is they who should be held responsible for any criminal damage which took place in Mahalla, he continued.
Bassiouni says that there is a direct link between the forceful methods used by security to break up the planned April 6 strike in Ghazl El-Mahalla textiles factory and the events which followed.
“People, mostly young men, gathered around 3:30 pm ahead of the end of the factory’s morning shift which ends at 4 pm, he said.
“Demonstrators started moving along the central Bahr Street and chanting against high prices and poverty. When children started throwing rocks off a bridge at a train, demonstrators stopped them, and started chanting ‘rocks no, peace yes.’
Bassiouni pointed to previous, peaceful mass actions in Mahalla as evidence that security bodies rather than demonstrators were responsible for the violence which occurred last week.
“I have covered two previous strikes in Ghazl El-Mahalla, in December 2006 and September 2007 when over 24,000 workers peacefully sat in the Talat Harb square in front of the factory for six days.
“Not one single criminal act took place.