CAIRO: Clashes between factions in the independent Al-Ghad party led to a fire in its downtown headquarters Thursday morning, and the blame game began shortly after.
Seven people were injured and several were arrested, according to the Associated Press.
Daily News Egypt spoke to one Ghad party member, Mahmoud Bokheir, who had a slight head injury caused, he says, by a falling stone. Emergency staff were also seen taking someone out of the Ghad party headquarters on a stretcher.
Employees of shops in Talaat Harb Square, where Al-Ghad headquarters are located, said the incident began at 10 am.
“A huge crowd of people congregated in the square underneath the Ghad party headquarters, Shaymaa, a shop assistant who preferred not to give her full name, said.
“The people in the headquarters were standing in the balcony and playing nationalist songs. Then they started throwing bottles down at the people below, full bottles of Coca Cola and Mirinda, and stones.
“The people on the ground were also throwing stones and bottles back at them.
Shaymaa says that the cause of the fire, which began between 11:15 and 11:30 am, was unclear.
Party Chairman Moussa Mostafa Moussa and his supporters had congregated underneath the Ghad party headquarters in Talat Harb Square at roughly 10 am Thursday.
A judicial verdict recognized Moussa as the chairman of the party in 2007.
Former chairman Ayman Nour, a runner-up in the 2005 presidential elections, was convicted of forging powers-of-attorney to secure the formation of Al-Ghad and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
He was removed as party chairman soon after his imprisonment, which created a schism between his supporters and those who rallied behind Moussa.
Nour’s wife, Gamila Ismail, was inside the headquarters during the events.
Moussa and Ragab Helal Hemeida, general secretary of Al-Ghad, allege that Ismail and her supporters were throwing lit Molotov cocktails from the balcony, and that the fire started when one of these bottles landed inside the headquarters.
Speaking immediately after the fire had been put out, Hemeida told the press that “3,000 Ghad party members from various Egyptian governorates had converged on the party headquarters, which had been locked.
Hemeida said that Ismail “and others who have nothing to do with the Ghad party had organized a general assembly in order to elect Ghad party member Wael Nawwara as the new chairman.
He says that at 9:30 am Thursday, Moussa lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor about the “illegal occupation of the Ghad party headquarters. “We wanted to go to the Ghad headquarters in a peaceful procession in order to send the message to Egyptian society that the Ghad party is not ‘a minority of no more than 70 people,’ Hemeida said.
“Gamila Ismail, Ihab El-Khouly and Sayyed Bassiouny have been thrown out of the party. The real Ghad party is Moussa and others who were the party’s founders.
“While we were standing in Talat Harb Square, sealed bottles of Coca Cola and Miranda as well as Molotov cocktail bottles and big rocks were thrown down at us.
“We dispersed into the streets, which lead off Talat Harb Square, while the people in the balcony kept throwing the bottles and the Molotov cocktails.
While they were doing this, one of them threw a car battery which had been set on fire on to a car below.
“Someone else standing near Ihab El-Khouly was throwing Molotov cocktails – I saw him, everyone saw him. While he was doing this, he tripped and fell and the Molotov cocktail landed inside causing the fire.
“The strange thing is that we saw a group of people trying to inflame the blazes as if they want to burn down the headquarters.
All the eyewitnesses Daily News Egypt spoke to said that they had only seen bottles, rather than Molotov cocktails being thrown from the balcony.
One eyewitness showed Daily News Egypt a mobile phone video of a large object engulfed in flames landing in Talat Harb Square but it is impossible to identify what the object in the video is.
Several people commented on the absence of the police during the events.
“They were throwing stones and bottles from above, which landed on everyone – them and anyone passing by – and there wasn’t a single police man present. It’s well known that if [the Ghad party] plays a single patriotic song on their loudspeakers security forces are deployed, but today it was strange – not a single police officer, an eyewitness who watched the events from the headquarters of the Tagammu party, located opposite the Ghad party, said.
When Daily News Egypt arrived on the scene at approximately 12:30 pm there was a relatively light security presence. A security cordon was imposed roughly half an hour after the fire was extinguished.
According to AP, Gamila Ismail came out onto a balcony one floor below the torched party offices and shouted: Down, down Hosni Mubarak.
From the street downstairs, Moussa supporters reportedly chanted back at her: Here is the traitor.
Ismail, who at press time was waiting to be interrogated by the public prosecution office about the events, told Daily News Egypt that the absence of police during what she described as a government-sponsored attack on the Ghad party headquarters was deliberate.
“We had heard that Ghad party members who receive support from the government were planning to invade the headquarters, Ismail said.
“I reported this to the police four days ago and gave evidence to them of the plan, but the police was completely absent today, as it has been for the past two days.
“Thugs arrived with Moussa. They burned the entrance to the headquarters and used Molotov cocktails and explosives. They entered the building but left when the fire started.
Ismail said that the fire was started by Moussa’s supporters.
When asked whether her supporters had thrown bottles in self-defense, she said, “I didn’t see the back and forth of bottles but we were being attacked in our own building. We barely escaped being killed. This apartment is registered in my name and is used as an office by Ayman Nour. It is being leant to the Ghad party.
Ismail alleges that yesterday’s events were planned in advance.
“I was told by a PA member five days ago that NDP members would arrive together with the government-supported factions in the Ghad party, and that they would try to take over the headquarters.
“The timing – a day after the US elections – is deliberate. It’s so the media etc would be busy with the new presidency.
Hemeida says that 10-12 of Moussa’s supporters were arrested at the scene. Daily News Egypt also saw a woman being arrested at the entrance to the Ghad party headquarters.