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2011-05-17

"Violent Crackdown" on Pro-Palestinian Protesters in Cairo Leaves Over 350 Injured

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Egyptian police violently crushed a Sunday protest marking the anniversary of the 1948 establishment of Israel. At least 350 people were injured outside of the Israeli embassy in Cairo when police reportedly fired live ammunition, tear gas grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd. Meanwhile, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is expected to plead for amnesty and apologize on state television for causing harm to the nation, saying he received faulty information from some of his advisers. We speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who is reporting in Cairo. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Egypt, at least 350 pro-Palestinian demonstrators were injured when Egyptian police violently crushed a protest outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Egyptian police reportedly fired live ammunition, tear gas grenades, rubber bullets at the crowd. The violence comes amidst a wave of protests sweeping the Arab world.

We’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo. Can you describe what happened Sunday, Sharif?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, let me just preface this with — that since the toppling of Mubarak on February 11th, 2011, we’ve seen some changes on the foreign policy front by the post-Mubarak transitional government. And earlier this month Egypt brokered a unity deal between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. We also saw the former foreign minister, Nabil el-Araby, who’s become the new secretary general of the Arab League, promise to open the Rafah border crossing. This has yet to happen. Egypt, of course, has been complicit in the siege of Gaza for the last five years.

But I think many Egyptians and many Palestinians living in Egypt were very disappointed by the actions of the army and of the security forces for this Nakba anniversary. Thousands of people were planning to go actually to the border crossing, the Rafah border crossing in Sinai, to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. What the army did was prevent people from going. They created several checkpoints in Sinai, and they turned many people back. They even went so far as to close the Salam Bridge and the tunnel at the Suez Canal, which connects Sinai to mainland Egypt, and blocked hundreds of people from crossing into Sinai to get to the Rafah border crossing. One organizer even told me the army went so far as to cancel 30 buses that they had organized to ferry people into Sinai.

So, in response to that, thousands of people gathered on Sunday in front of the Israeli embassy in Giza. I was there, along with Nicole Salazar. We were taping. It was a vigorous rally, but a peaceful one. We left. But later that evening, there was a violent — there was a violent clampdown. There was a lot of army soldiers there and a lot of Central Security soldiers there. And reportedly, some protesters pushed some of the barricades that was blocking the building of the embassy. In response, the army and Central Security Forces used tear gas, a lot of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition on the protesters. Two people were shot. At least two were shot — one in the head, one in the abdomen. One of them is critically wounded. A hundred and thirty-seven people were arrested. They remain in detention, and they’re facing possible questioning by a military prosecutor.

And what’s even more troubling, Amy, by — that this violent crackdown came at a time of increasing lawlessness and a lack of security in the country. I mean, we saw on May 7th at the church attack, the sectarian attack in Imbaba where two churches were burned, 15 people were killed, and more than 240 people were injured, there was no security forces to be found. In fact, a new report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has found that police guarding the church in Imbaba fled when it came under attack. And the report claims that Salafis — that the police knew that Salafis were going to come and that violence would likely erupt, and they did nothing to prevent it. And we’ve also seen, while those same Coptic protesters have staged a sit-in at the state TV building every day since that attack, that sit-in came under attack itself on Saturday night by Molotov cocktails and live ammunition, as well. Nicole and I went and interviewed people the next day. They told us that state security forces were standing by and did nothing to protect them.

So, many here are very frustrated, and they wonder why the army, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the security forces here can muster the effort — cannot muster the effort to protect churches, to clamp down on crime, and to just simply enforce the law, but can turn out in overwhelming force and at a peaceful protest at the Israeli embassy. So, many people say this is not what they fought for in the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Just got this news over UPI. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expected to apologize to the Egyptian people on state television and plead for amnesty. The Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk quoted unnamed Egyptian officials as saying the deposed president will apologize for causing harm to the nation, saying he received faulty information from some of his advisers. And on Monday, the former first lady told prosecutors she would return $3 million in assets to Egypt, that she would. Your response, Sharif?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s right. I mean, this news came out today. He’s expected — I believe it’s going to be an audio — an audio broadcast that was — it’s expected later this evening. He’s begging for forgiveness and amnesty. It remains to be seen exactly what he’s going to say. His tone in past — every single speech that he’s given since the revolution began on January 25th has been one of not understanding what’s happening in the country. Supposedly he’s going to be much more humble. This was the same speechwriter, apparently, is writing the speech that he gave on January 28th, when he dissolved the cabinet.

You know, he has not been transferred to a prison yet. He suffered what some say was a heart attack under questioning, and he’s still in a military hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh. Suzanne Mubarak, his wife, when she was questioned, also suffered a heart attack and has not been transferred to prison yet. Both his sons, Gamal and Alaa, have been in prison, in Tora Prison, the notorious Tora Prison, for a few weeks now. They keep extending their questioning time. So we’ll have to see what happens. This was a key demand of the revolution, that Mubarak be prosecuted for his crimes over the 30 years of his reign. I doubt that — well, we’ll have to see what happens tonight and what he says.

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