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The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER       (Page 4 of 11 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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"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.

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"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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"According to media reports, on January 28 police yesterday at least four journalists, beat a BBC reporters, and seized a camera from a CNN crew.  Starting January 25, they briefly detained at least 10 other reporters.


"Human Rights Watch said that the internet and mobile communications are essential tools for rights of expression, to information, and of assembly and association. The United States, the European Union, and influential regional governments should take immediate steps to press Egypt to end the nationwide telecommunications blackout. Companies and internet service providers in and outside of Egypt should act responsibly to uphold freedom of expression and privacy by pressing Egypt to stop censoring their products and services.

"A state-directed shutdown of all internet access is deeply chilling," said Stork. "The international community should respond swiftly to put an end to Egypt's information blackout and human rights abuses."

Also over the weekend, the Egyptian Air Force flew low-flying fighter jets and helicopters over thousands of protesters in Cairo's central square. The show of force was seen as a message from Mubarak that he still controls the most important levers of state power.

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But the relationship between the protesters and the Egyptian military remained enigmatic. The military was ordered into the melee to replace the universally-hated police, which fled to their headquarters at the Interior Ministry in Cairo, retreating in the face of an advancing army of citizens.


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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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