Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Battle of Midan Tahrir

Today, Egypt's peaceful pro-democracy protestors were set upon by a mob wielding knives, bricks, and Molotov cocktails:
"Witnesses said the military allowed thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters, armed with sticks and knives, to enter the square. Opposition groups said Mubarak had sent in thugs to suppress anti-government protests.

"One of our correspondents said the army seemed to be standing by and facilitating the clashes.

"Though initially put on the backfoot by the sudden attack, determined anti-government protesters looked to be winning the battle against Mubarak supporters.

"Witnesses also said that pro-Mubarak supporters were dragging away protesters they had managed to grab and handing them over to security forces...

"Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square...

"Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera correspondent said men on horseback and camels ploughed into the crowds as army personnel stood by.

"At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming down their faces."

The battle began mid-afternoon and raged into the evening. The Associated Press put the numbers involved at about 10,000 anti-Mubarak demonstrators and 3000 regime supporters. Evidence suggests that the pro-Mubarak faction was conjured up from the police and hired thugs, as is common in Egypt.

The regime restored internet and cell phone service shortly before the attack, probably hoping word would spread and intimidate potential activists. At the same time, the international seem to have been targets of regime violence, presumably in an attempt to keep the affair off television screens. The army ceased guarding the square entrances and let the protesters get attacked, suggesting it has no intention of acting decisively against the Mubarak government, which is probably at this point more like Umar Suleiman's government anyway. It looks to all appearances that my theory the military was seizing the chance to install Suleiman was annoyingly correct.

As I write, while today the demonstrators survived and cleared the square of regime forces, those pro-Mubarak thugs have barricaded them inside and any potential reinforcements outside, leading to fears of what tomorrow will bring. According to substantial Twitter traffic, in at least one nearby square, someone is firing rubber bullets at anti-Mubarak demonstrators.

I don't see this as over today any more than I did a few days ago, though it looks bad for the protestors, who were able to remain united and organized even on this terrible day. They could still hold out for a little while, but I'm not sure they'll get much help in the coming days without a massive organizational call for such help which I'm not seeing anywhere. Mubarak's hand-off to Suleiman seems to have resolved the internal tensions within the security apparatus.

UPDATE: AJE is now (9:56 p.m.) reporting that anti-Mubarak demonstrators may have taken control of the Sixth of October Bridge over the Nile.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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