CAIRO — Egyptians defied the Interior Ministry’s ban on protests Wednesday, with hundreds congregating in central Cairo in the afternoon, once again shouting “Down with Mubarak!”
“This is Egyptian democracy!” shouted one young man, pointing at a bandage on his forehead from a wound he suffered when police beat him at Tuesday’s protest. “I came out again today to say we want freedom for our country. I will come tomorrow. If it takes a year, I will stay for a year. We will die in the streets if we have to.”
Before he could give his name, security forces charged at the crowd, batons held aloft ready to rain down the blows. The protesters fled, running at full speed over uneven sidewalks and pushing into the people ahead. People fell to the ground and were trampled as the push of the crowd made it impossible to stop and help them.
The scenes were exactly what US ally President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime tried to prevent with today’s firm clampdown following massive national protests that shocked the world Tuesday. Authorities declared that protests would not be tolerated Wednesday, sent security out in force to violently break up demonstrations before they could grow large, and shut down Twitter.
The measures show just how seriously the regime is taking the unrest, which comes after the president of nearby Tunisia was forced from power by a month of sustained protests.
Rocks and tear gas
During today’s illegal protests, youths clashed with police for several hours, exchanging rocks for tear gas, playing a cat and mouse game of surge-and-retreat among the stinging smoke. The police used what appeared to be rubber bullets and concussion grenades as youths set fire to a government sign.
One man, huddled in a shop where men hacked and coughed from the tear gas, looked through the gas-induced tears streaming down his face and shouted, “Thirty years of injustice! It is enough!”
Inspired by Tunisia, Egyptians are protesting the repression and lack of political freedom under Mr. Mubarak’s regime. The aging president has ruled for nearly three decades under a state of emergency, which outlaws demonstrations and restricts civil liberties. Police-perpetrated torture is common, and elections are full of irregularities.
The metro stations in Tahrir square, where the massive demonstration took place Tuesday, was closed today. Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reported that security forces also broke up protests in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Mahalla El Kubra, as well as other towns.
A fourth person reportedly died from the clashes Tuesday: three protesters were killed by rubber bullets in Suez, while one member of the security forces was killed by a rock in Cairo. At least 500 people have been arrested over the last two days.
The microblogging site Twitter, used by activists in Egypt to coordinate protests, confirmed that the site had been blocked in Egypt Tuesday, and it remained inacessible Wednesday. Egyptian authorities denied they had blocked Twitter.
Protesters Tuesday said the blockage had contributed to smaller turnout Wednesday, because people didn’t know what was going on or where to go to protest.