Police cracks down on Cairo protest against church attack, oppression

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By Heba Fahmy

CAIRO: Police cracked down on protesters in Talaat Harb and Ramses Squares on Sunday as they organized to denounce the recent New Year’s Eve attack on Church (The Church of the Two Saints) in Alexandria.

Around 50 Muslims and Copts were violently shoved by security forces, preventing them from gathering at Talaat Harb Square. Some protesters stated they were beaten and insulted by security forces and plain-clothed police officers.

Phones and cameras were confiscated from protesters and reporters who attempted to get footage of the violence.

One protester had her phone flung out of her hand and stomped on by a plain-clothed policeman, described as a “government thug” by protesters.

The demonstrators later took to the streets to chant against the Al-Qeddesine Church bombing. They marched from Talaat Harb Square to Ramses Street, where they were forcibly stopped by police and surrounded by a tight security cordon.

“The demonstration was initially supposed to take place in Talaat Harb Square,” Aida Seif El-Dawla, a prominent activist and Ain Shams University professor of psychiatry, told Daily News Egypt. “But riot police and thugs beat us [to prevent us from holding the demonstration there] and four of us were detained.”

Ahmed Ragheb, lawyer and head of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, told Daily News Egypt that five protesters were briefly detained but were released after the protest ended.
The demonstrators held banners reading “We are all equal … there’s no discrimination based on religion,” and “Muslim or Copt: It doesn’t matter.”

They chanted slogans such as “One country, one dream, one hope and one love.”

“The attack that happened in Alexandria won’t divide us,” Shaimaa, a member of the Youth for Justice and Freedom group, told Daily News Egypt. “On the contrary, it will strengthen our [Muslims’ and Coptic Christians’] unity.

The protesters also accused the Ministry of Interior of failing to protect Egypt’s Copts and called for the resignation of Interior Minister Habib El-Adly.

Clashes erupted as protesters attempted to break the police cordon and security forces resisted, tightening the cordon to the extent that various protesters said that it was difficult to breathe.

“The riot police got orders to … tighten the cordon surrounding us and suffocate us,” a Youth for Justice and Freedom group member known as Amr Guevara told Daily News Egypt. “We have girls among us, and people who have asthma and other health problems who had trouble breathing.”

One of the protesters collapsed to the ground and was taken to a hospital; according to Guevara, the protester had asthma.

“We tried to widen the cordon [so we could breathe], but [security forces] sent in thugs to beat us up,” Guevara said. “[The thugs] pulled me outside the cordon — among others — and beat me up, tore my clothes and then let me go.”

Protesters and press groups were prevented from leaving the police cordon in Ramses Street for over an hour.

In reference to the security forces’ actions, protesters chanted, “Come and see the real terrorism in Egypt.”
“Egypt’s Christians and churches were being threatened by Al-Qaeda since November,” Shaimaa said. “There should have been more security around [Al-Qeddesine Church] to protect the Copts.

“If a government official [had been] in that church, security forces would have prevented any cars from parking in front of it and [the bombing incident] wouldn’t have happened,” she added.

“Terrorism in Egypt is not just someone blowing himself up … the Egyptian government is the number one sponsor in terrorizing its people,” Iman Wahab, a university student and a member of the Youth for Justice and Freedom group, told Daily News Egypt.

The Ministry of Interior said that a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Al-Qeddesine Church about 30 minutes after midnight, killing 21 people and wounding 97 others.

The protesters also chanted slogans in support of the people of Tunisia and their struggles against the government.

“[Initially], we had arranged this demonstration in solidarity with the people of Tunisia,” Seif El-Dawla said. “But after the massacre that took place on News Year’s Eve, we decided to support the Copts as well and [to] call for the resignation of Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly.”

“We want to tell the Tunisian people that, as Tunisia suffers from poverty, unemployment and corruption, Egyptian people also suffer from the same problems,” Spokesperson for Free Front for Peaceful Change Essam El-Sherif told Daily News Egypt.

Demonstrations broke out in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010 in the central town of Sidi Bouzid after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as police officers seized his fruit and vegetable stand.

Since then, at least two cases of attempted suicide in protest of poor economic conditions have been reported by Tunisian groups.


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