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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

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Headlined to None 1/30/11

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Suleiman "s appointment is prompting some analysts and protesters to question the sincerity of the Mubarak's commitment to democratic change.

The Obama administration's party line was also echoed on Sunday by the new White House Chief of Staff, William Daley. He called on Egyptian President Mubarak to "support basic human rights." But he added that this issue could be taken up by only the people of Egypt.

In other weekend developments:

A curfew is still in force but protesters are largely ignoring it. It was reported that some protesters set fires and tried to enter government buildings.

Self-styled "opposition leader" Mohamed El Baradei , former head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) arrived from his home in Vienna, and was reportedly initially placed under house arrest in his hotel. Later, as he attempted to join demonstrators in the street, he was doused by a water cannon.

El Baradei returned to his native Egypt several months ago and immediately began a campaign to persuade Egyptian voters that he deserved their support as leader of the opposition. Since then, he has been in and out of Egypt, was not present at the start of the current demonstrations, and is generally not seen as the person likely to be selected to lead this leaderless revolution.

In this reporter's view, some of the best reporting of events on the ground came from Joe Stork and his team in Egypt with Human Rights Watch. Stork wrote:

"Thousands of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria defied a heavy deployment of riot police and other security forces and government warnings not to participate in demonstrations on January 28, 2011. The government shut down access to the Internet and most mobile phone networks and ordered the army onto the streets of Cairo ahead of a curfew.

"Witnesses described dozens of demonstrators being injured by the police. Reports say security forces are restricting the movements of the opposition leader Mohamed el-Baradei and have arrested several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Police briefly detained several journalists covering the protests.

"The Egyptian people are on the streets demanding reform and a government whose police no longer attack them. After decades of torture and brutality, the Egyptian government is all too comfortable beating and shooting at its own citizens. But the government and its security forces should heed the message that the people have had enough.

"Protesters in Cairo tried to force their way towards Tahrir Square, the scheduled meeting point for the January 28 protest. Human Rights Watch researchers observed demonstrators as they made their way across Qasr al-Nil Bridge toward the central square, only to be turned back, at first with water cannons and teargas fired at close range, and then with rubber bullets fired by riot police. Protesters also attempted to cross the 6 October Bridge, but riot police there also fired teargas into crowd.

"At approximately 3:15 p.m., riot police at Qasr al-Nil Bridge started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd and beating them with batons, eventually leading to the retreat of demonstrators back across the bridge. Eyewitnesses said that dozens were injured. Human Rights Watch researchers near the bridge counted nine bloodied victims as other demonstrators carried them out. One appeared to be unconscious, another had what appeared to be a dozen bullet wounds, and a 67-year-old man had a bullet wound to his neck.

"An eyewitness, an elderly female demonstrator who said she was at the front lines of the demonstrators on the bridge, said that the police fired both the teargas and the rubber bullets at extremely close range. Another demonstrator, a 62-year-old retired army officer who said he was a veteran of the 1973 war with Israel, said police beat him with batons.

"Meanwhile in the northern port of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed security forces shooting teargas canisters and rubber bullets at about 600 peaceful protesters after the Friday noon prayer at the Sidi Beshr mosque. The protesters left the mosque with banners and started marching, shouting, "We are peaceful, we are peaceful." After an hour of sporadic clashes a large column of protesters came from the other direction and blocked in police, holding up their hands and repeating, "We are peaceful." Police later withdrew from the area and thousands of protesters marched down the Alexandria seafront. Later in the day Human Rights Watch saw police cars and trucks burning on the city streets.

"Human Rights Watch urged the government to reverse its decision to shut down most communications in Egypt, saying the blackout poses a major threat to human rights. The shutdown of the internet came in apparent response to the demonstrations, which began as protests against police torture and quickly escalated into calls for an end to President Mubarak's three decades of rule.

"Egypt's information blackout is an extreme step designed to disrupt planned marches, to block images of police brutality, and to silence dissent once and for all," said Stork. "Attacks on journalists are also intended to censor reporting. The government should order police to let reporters work freely.

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 
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