Cairo: Many Injured in Repeated Ambushes on Protest

Many were injured in Cairo as the latest round of protests against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi turned violent, with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Saeed Ali reports.

al-monitor Photographers hold up placards as they protest against government policies and the Muslim Brotherhood's treatment toward photographers, in Cairo, March 19, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Khaled Elfiqi.

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Mar 19, 2013

Two evenings ago, the area surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on Road 9 in the Mokattam district witnessed a grim street battle that lasted for 10 hours, until the early hours of yesterday morning [March 18]. Clashes erupted between the Central Security Forces and Brotherhood youth on one side, and political forces and revolutionary youths on the other. The latter group was protesting against attacks on political activists last Saturday in front of the Brotherhood headquarters.

The clashes began two evenings ago, as protesters removed the group's slogan from the headquarters boundary wall. This prompted the Brotherhood youth, accompanied by internal forces, to attack them. The clashes lasted until the early hours of yesterday morning.

Al-Masry Al-Youm spent all night reporting on internal skirmishes, attacks and retreats between demonstrators and Central Security Forces in the streets surrounding the headquarters. The security forces arrested dozens of demonstrators in collaboration with the youth groups.

The arrests did not represent the only loss of demonstrators. Between 40 and 50 demonstrators sustained serious injuries to their heads and limbs. Although the Ministry of Health dispatched six ambulances to transport the injured, and provided them with treatment, it did not move a muscle to assist dozens of cases of suffocation and fainting.

Police forces set up the first ambush for the protesters the day before yesterday at 8 p.m. Police forces seemed to be developing a plan to pursue protesters 20 meters away from the headquarters. They moved the armored vehicles from the back streets to Road 10 to take demonstrators by surprise, surround them from the right and the left and then fired tear gas, making visibility difficult and increasing the cases of suffocation. Central Security Forces stepped down off the armored vehicles, beat protesters with batons on the head and face, arrested them and threw them into the armored vehicles.

The security forces’ first ambush failed to quash the enthusiasm of the youth. They retreated, reorganized their ranks and attacked the internal forces and the Brotherhood with stones and Molotov cocktails. They also set up a barricade made of stones and burnt wood at the entrance of Road 9 to impede the movement of the armored vehicles.

The second ambush was set up at 9 p.m. It was organized by the Central Security Forces, whose violent strikes hit the protesters, people and journalists facing them. Our colleague, Mohammed Ismail, editor at [Egyptian daily] Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, was not saved from the internal forces’ violence. He had bruises on the face, which caused him to faint and break his nose. He was arrested and released after being identified.

As the ambulances simply stood by, pharmacies in the surrounding area turned into field hospitals to treat the injured.

Tear gas was not the only weapon used by the Central Security Forces. They used blank bullet cartridges and rubber bullets on protesters, hitting some on the back and legs. A number of women fainted as a result of the tear gas. The violence of the internal forces, which hit everyone present near the Mokattam district, reached the district shops, after grenades and bullet cartridges hit the shops and those inside them. As a result, shopkeepers clashed with demonstrators and demanded that they move away from the shops. It did not take the shopkeepers long to form security committees to secure their shops and stand in front of them to prevent demonstrators from approaching their property. Sporadic clashes erupted between the two sides, and ended in an agreement to prevent the internal forces from driving a wedge between demonstrators and the people. The demonstrators responded by backing away from areas near people's property.

After the retreat and attacks, which lasted until the day before yesterday at midnight, fatigue has set in among demonstrators, who have retreated to take a break. But their number did not decrease during the hours of darkness. Security forces attacked the youth again in another ambush that successfully kidnapped some and injured others.

Al-Masry Al-Youm spotted youth groups from the Brotherhood on the roof of the guidance office following up on events and intervening when needed by the internal forces. Demonstrators shone laser lights on the roof of the guidance office to reveal the presence of Brotherhood members in civilian clothes. The Brotherhood youth responded by shining similar lights.

At 1 a.m. yesterday, the last ambush took place after the lights on Road 9 went off. Demonstrators were tricked when the Central Security forces came from behind and chased them with batons.

Feeling a sense of danger, the people formed security committees in the entrances to the buildings to protect themselves, and provide protesters with treatment, including using bottles of vinegar solution to relieve the demonstrators’ respiratory distress from the tear gas.

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