[UPDATE] Three people, including a soldier in Cairo, were killed during the protests in Egypt, the New York Times reports.
In a day marked for commemorating the struggle against European colonizers, tens of thousands of Egyptians, inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, took to the streets Tuesday to protest the iron-fisted policies of the police state.
Ironically called “Police Day,” the January 25 national holiday had been created in tribute to the heroism of 50 Egyptian policemen killed by British forces in 1952 in the city of Ismailia after they refused to surrender their weapons to their European colonizers.
But today’s demonstrations spewed anger against President Hosni Mubarak’s increasingly authoritarian, 29-year-long regime.
“On January 25 I will take back my country” was the call to action circulated on Facebook by the “April 6 Youth Movement,” a grassroots opposition group which was organizing nationwide anti-government protests.
“Security forces are killing us and can’t protect us – so why do you remain silent?” a brochure, one of 20,000 distributed ahead of the protest, asked. “Egyptians are burning themselves – so why do you remain silent?”
“Our message today is “Hosni Mubarak – out!” Muhammad ‘Adel, a spokesman for “April 6 Youth”, told The Media Line. ‘Adel said that as of 3 pm, some 40,000 demonstrators were on the streets of Cairo and thousands more in other Egyptian cities.
Maye, another “April 6 Youth” activist, spoke to The Media Line from the operations room setup by her movement to monitor police violence during the demonstrations. She said that sporadic violence was reported against demonstrators near the Lawyers’ Union building.
“What took place in Tunisia has inspired us,” Maye said. “Faith in the police is currently very low because of police violence.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s main opposition group, recently warned the government of pending mass protests modeled after those that toppled Tunisian President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali last week. The Brotherhood did not publicly endorse Tuesday’s protests, however, saying only that individual party members would participate, AFP reported.
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Police brutality recently came to the fore in Egypt, following widespread publicity of a number of cases of abuse. Earlier this month, Egyptian secret service agents allegedly dragged 32-year old Al-Sayid Bilal from his home in Alexandria and tortured him to death as part of a crackdown on Islamists following a church bombing in the city on New Year’s Eve. Last June, Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Alexandria resident was allegedly tortured to death by two police officers who tried to search him.
President Hosni Mubarak saluted the police forces in an interview with the police force magazine, saying “those who claim oppression exists in Egypt spread baseless lies and rumors.”
Counter protests in favor of President Mubarak and the police forces also took place in Cairo. Dozens of protesters stood across from Egypt’s Supreme Court building chanting slogans in favor of Interior Minister Habib Al-‘Adli, who they said effectively clamped down on home-grown terrorism. “Al-‘Adli is a symbol of security, who put an end to terrorism, bullying and drugs in Egypt,” one sign read.
But that view was disputed by other Egyptians.
“The ministry of interior now has turned the police from the service of the public to the service of the regime,” an Egyptian blogger identified as Zeinobia wrote on “Egyptian Chronicles” on Friday. “There is no security anymore in the Egyptian street.”
Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line that the image of Egyptian police has steadily deteriorated over the last decade as the media widened their coverage of human rights abuses.
“People here are afraid of the police,” she said. “If you go to a demonstration there’s high likelihood you will get beaten up. When it comes to court, the police enjoy complete impunity.”
Egypt’s State Security Intelligence (SSI) was harshly criticized by Human Rights Watch in its new World Report 2011. According to the report, during 2010 SSI “disappeared” political detainees, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, subjecting them to torture and lengthy detention without trial.