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Eyewitnesses to a Massacre: Reports from Inside Tahrir Square as Pro-Mubarak Forces Open Fire on Protesters

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Just before dawn in Cairo today pro-government forces opened fire at Tahrir Square, the site of anti-Mubarak protests for the past 10 days. Minutes after the attack began, Democracy Now! spoke with Egyptian protesters Mona El Seif and Selma Tarzi inside Tahrir Square. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Egyptian government has launched a violent crackdown on the massive uprising seeking the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. After over a week of unprecedented and peaceful rallies that brought millions into the streets, pro-democracy demonstrators were viciously attacked Wednesday and earlier today in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Aided by positions overlooking the crowd and the apparent consent of the military, pro-Mubarak supporters unleashed a barrage of automatic gunfire and Molotov cocktails. Protesters responded with homemade bombs, sticks and rocks. At least seven people were killed and over 800 were wounded before dawn broke. The vast majority of the victims appeared to be on the pro-democracy side. There are widespread reports that many pro-Mubarak supporters were either plainclothes police officers or others paid by the regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after the first gunfire erupted, Democracy Now! producer Aaron Maté reached Egyptian activist Mona Seif in Tahrir square.

MONA EL SEIF: They have rifles. They are shooting live ammunition at us. We’ve already — we’ve had a lot of wounded. I don’t know how many. The ambulance keeps on coming and carrying wounded people and speeding away with them. We have had so far four confirmed deaths. One of them was with a shot right through the head. And it just — it is still going on. And the army is there, and they are not moving, and nobody’s moving. And we keep on sending other of our people to the forefront to try and protect us, and we keep on losing some of them. And that’s how it is.

AARON MATÉ: And what is the military doing?

MONA EL SEIF: The military is not doing anything. On the side, where the main clashes are, where we lost already four people and lots of wounded, there are more than six army trucks, and they are not doing anything. And right now there is — it seems that there is another clash on another of the entrances to Tahrir Square, but I cannot confirm it, like people are running towards it, but I don’t know yet if there is something.

AARON MATÉ: Now, it’s almost 6:00 in the morning there, and it’s obviously very dangerous. Why are you still there?

MONA EL SEIF: Because we cannot leave. We came here peacefully demanding for Mubarak to leave. We were so numerous yesterday. This is not our demand alone. This is the demand of the majority of Egyptians all over the country. We were here peacefully. Yesterday was such a festive day. If you saw the place, you would think it was a park. We had children playing and people chanting and dancing and singing. And now, all of a sudden, it’s this war zone, just because they leashed at us those thugs, with their weapons and their knives and their cocktail Molotovs thrown at us from rooftops. We are here because we’ve lost a lot of people for a certain demand and a certain cause, and we owe it to them to stick it and stay here.

AARON MATÉ: Now, the corporate media here has described what’s happening today as clashes between two sides. What do think of that description?

MONA EL SEIF: It isn’t. It isn’t. If it was clashes between two sides, then you would assume that the two sides had opposing causes and they were equal. It isn’t. Most of the — we have caught a lot of the thugs they have released at us. We have searched them. Most of them were one of two things. Either they had police IDs on them — and we have taken photos of this, and we’ve already sent it out to Twitter and Facebook; you can look for it, the hashtag is jan25 — or they were unemployed people that were promised either jobs or money. And we’ve already — we have a testimony of one of them on videotape. We are just waiting for a chance to have internet to show the world what this government is capable of. We know this. We know this since every demo we went to. They always plant thugs and pretend — let them pretend to be civilians, so they can start the violence. I just never saw this amount of violence, this publicly displayed, and nobody stopping it.

AMY GOODMAN: Egyptian activist Mona Seif, speaking after the pro-Mubarak forces opened fire on Tahrir Square. Democracy Now! producer Aaron Maté also reached another activist there, Selma Tarzi.

SELMA AL-TARZI: The Mubarak thugs were shooting at us with the machine guns. The army shot back at them. Two of them were killed. One of us was killed. And the army was chased them and took their machine guns away. However, more are coming. And we are so tired. People are so tired. We’ve been fighting for the past 12 hours. And we’re just protesters; we’re civilians. We’re protesters. We’re not — we’re improvising fighting tactics. All we have is stones and sticks. And we’re tired. This is not what we’re here to do. This is not — this is not how — this is a crime of war. They’re killing us.

AARON MATÉ: Tell us what you’re seeing right now.

SELMA AL-TARZI: I’m seeing doctors running left and right, ambulances driving left and right, people carrying wounded people, trying to take them to the place that we set up and made an improvised doctor tent. On the other side, people are sitting on the pavement so exhausted and so tired. And that is us. Some people are trying to lift the morale or encourage people to go and fight. But people are tired. People are tired.

And channels like the BBC are claiming that it’s a Muslim Brother movement and that all the people in the square are Muslim Brothers. We are not Muslim Brothers. I’m not the Muslim Brothers. I couldn’t care less for the Muslim Brothers. They’re everything I work against and I believe against. However, in this fight, we are working together side by side. And there are people from all sorts of ideologies here. It’s a people’s movement.

AARON MATÉ: Who are these forces that have been shooting at you?

SELMA AL-TARZI: These are thugs. These are thugs that are trying to attack the square from all the entrances. Our people are trying to secure the entrances of the square. But these are the Mubarak thugs, and not only Mubarak. And it has to be very clear to everyone that when we say that we want Mubarak out, we mean his whole government, his whole regime, including Habib El Adly, including Omar Suleiman, the chief of intelligence, including the parliament, including the parliament heads that are hiring these thugs to kill us, basically.

There has been live shooting all day. I was helping with the wounded. And I have, myself, seen to a couple of cases of gunshots in their legs, because they’re below. They’re shooting their legs below. They’re not showing the guns. At the beginning, they weren’t. Now that they’re using machine guns, apparently they’re being obvious about it, but at the beginning they were shooting below the — they were shooting the legs. They weren’t showing their weapons. And we did not know where the shot is coming from.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Selma Tarzi, speaking from Tahrir Square in the midst of pro-government forces opening fire on the pro-democracy demonstrators.

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A Battle for Democracy: Sharif Abdel Kouddous Reports on How Anti-Government Protesters Are Resisting the Mubarak’s Regime Crackdown

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