Written on Tuesday, July 11
Egyptian protesters occupying Cairo’s central plaza came under attack on Tuesday morning by a gang wielding knives and sticks as the army issued a warning in a sign their patience is running out.
The sit-in followed a huge demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday over the lack of pace in; purging members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime from government, prosecuting those responsible for the killing of 846 protesters during the country’s revolution and a halt in military trials for civilians.
Several hundred people are camping out in the square with the number increasing daily and thousands more joining them in the afternoons and evenings as the baking temperatures begin to drop transforming the square into a hotbed of artistic and political expression.
Popular committees made up of youths from various political and social groups, as well as the unaffiliated, have sealed off all streets to the square with manned checkpoints to prevent traffic and troublemakers from entering.
However numbers are at their lowest in the morning, when the attack, which left six injured, happened, with many activists still a sleep in their tents.
It is not the first time so-called ‘thugs’ have attacked the committed protesters who believe the elements within the security forces are responsible.
The army’s leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, later gave a stern warning against the protesters ‘harming the country’s interests’, the Egyptian Daily reported.
The occupation had continued peacefully as people returned to work on Sunday with security forces maintaining their distance and traffic avoiding the area.
Government workers trying to reach their offices on the square faced pickets with some reportedly showing their support by not crossing them and joining the activists.
Some protesters started to believe the army, who are currently the country’s de-facto rulers, would let the occupation continue unchallenged but others were clear its patience would be limited leading to confrontation.
Later on Tuesday the authorities disconnected power to the square leaving it in darkness after activists had tapped into street lighting to provide power for their computers.
But one activist, Mohamed, who worked as a tour guide before the revolution erupted on January 25, said he has never known the army to attack fellow Egyptians and the police are too shaken from their recent vilification – for killing more than 840 demonstrators and injuring thousands more – to confront them.
With many activists adamant they will not leave until their demands are met and recent events attracting larger numbers to the Square in support it is difficult to predict how authorities will deal with the situation.
Before the upsurge in tensions the square had become popular with school children and students on summer vacation the square becoming a fun evening out for families and friends.
Three stages were built with speakers and artists performing until late at night, dozens of food, drink and souvenir stalls popped up, face-painters attempted to smear the national colours over anyone with an Egyptian pound and a first-aid area was set-up by volunteers.
But Mohamed was not impressed.
He believes the message of why they are there is getting lost and that it will take further confrontation with the authorities, to show they have not changed, to push their agenda forward.
One of the key demands at Friday’s demo was the speedy arrest and public trial of those responsible for the killings including the Minister of Interior Habib Al-Ahly, who has already been sentenced to 12 years for corruption.
So far only one police officer has been found guilty of killing unarmed civilians, with seven officers recently being bailed and Al-Ahly’s trial repeatedly postponed while Mubarak continues to recover from an illness in popular tourist resort Sharm El-Sheik.
Egyptians want to see him stand trial with many calling for him to face the death penalty.
However Friday’s message was limited to these demands after Egypt’s most established party, the Muslim Brotherhood, threatened to boycott the event over differences with leftist parties on whether the constitution should be written before or after elections, planned for September.
If it is written after the election, parties such as the Coalition of Socialist Forces fear an expected MB majority parliament will base the new constitution on religious laws – despite splits and expulsions in the MB giving short thrift to its image of unity and strength.
Activists are also concerned over whether the army will abandon the position of power it currently enjoys following elections; potentially leading to an unofficial partnership with the MB.
These theories are supported by the Army’s dominant political role in Egypt despite a transitional government being place.
And this is what the protesters are most fearful of; a return to government looking after its and not the peoples’ interests.