Promises that Egypt’s military junta would bring forward national elections was not enough to calm the 100,000 protesters in Tahrir Square and across the county.
An estimated 30 people have died in the last five days of protests against the military leadership. Heavy police use of rubber bullets, stun guns and tear gas on protesters have marked the latest protests, mainly occurring in Tahrir Square and in the streets leading to the Interior Ministry.
The military junta Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has ruled Egypt since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from government earlier this year. The interim prime minister Essam Sharaf has resigned.
The head of SCAF, Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi announced in a televised address overnight that democratic elections would begin on November 28, with a new president to be elected by July 2012 (meaning elected representatives would still report to the military until next July). Originally the junta said the transfer of power to a new president would not happen until late 2012 or early 2013.
The decision for a faster transfer to civilian rule came about SCAF met with Islamic groups including Muslim Brotherhood (The New York Times says that most other political parties boycotted the discussions).
“We ask for fair elections. We are doing our job in a very special era,” said Tantawi. “We do not care who runs for elections and who is elected president and yet we are accused of being biased.”
But the speech did not go down well in the protester-packed Tahrir Square, reports Al Jazeera :
“As Tantawi finished his speech, a crowd reaching as many as 100,000 in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square signalled their disapproval by chanting ‘Irhal!’ or ‘Leave!’.
Reminiscent of the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s rule in February, the crowds in Tahrir Square shouted “the people want the fall of the field marshal,” instead of “The people want the fall of the regime”.
So what is it that protesters want? Protester Amor Eletrebi — who paints an evocative picture of being amongst the tear gas — writes in Al Jazeera:
“The crowds are swinging between either demanding the junta setting April 2012 as a date for handing over power to an elected president, or demanding the junta step down immediately in favour of a transitional council — similar to the Tunisian model. Either way, the crowds are stubborn, well-experienced revolutionaries who accept no compromise and have no more tolerance for the junta’s speeches and games.
Even the promised parliamentary elections to be held by the end of this month, has become a big zero at the back of our heads. We’ve learned a hard lesson: no act of revolution can exist under military rule, and therefore no further moves should be taken with the military still in power.”
And so the violent protests continue, write David D Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell in the New York Times:
“Intense skirmishes continued on the main avenue leading to the Interior Ministry. Though the security forces could have reached the square from other streets and the protesters could have attacked the Interior Ministry from other directions as well, each side continued to hammer the other — protesters with rocks, the security forces with tear gas that wafted back through the square — along the same charred and pockmarked block.
Many of the protesters wore green face masks, of the type used by medics, to try to filter tear gas fired by security forces in the ebb and flow of the fighting along streets littered with debris. Both sides sought to reinforce makeshift barricades.”
These screen shots from Tahrir Square show the masses of people.
Writer Sarah Carr tweeted a picture of a “man on a traffic light beating an effigy of a soldier/field marshall.”
Afterwards she added: “These days feel like the January revolution, but condensed. Like watching a trailer.”
The prolific use of tear gas has even started discussions of whether it is normal tear gas being sued by police or a more potent form. According to the brilliant Al Jazeera Egypt live blog:
“Prominent presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei — who has been asked by the military to be prime minister – tweeted that the gas had been mixed with a “nerve agent”. Eric Knecht, a journalist working in Mansoura, a city north of Cairo, tweeted that he had been told a “propane-butane gas” was being used, in addition to others.
Reactions to the gas range from the fearful to the dismissive. Meanwhile, Cairo-based political analyst Issandr Amrani has written that it might simply be “CR gas,” a significantly more potent irritant.”
As one Al Jazeera editor tweeted after passing through the tear gas : “Makes u feel as though ur eyes will fall out of their sockets, & that’s before the blinding, the stinging, & the chest constriction #Tahrir”
The violent unrest is not just happening in Cairo. In Alexandria, Al Jazeera producer Adam Makery has been live-tweeting events:
“More and more injured being pooled into makeshift hospitals in #Alexandria, mostly from rubber-coated steel bullets”
“”We had to dismantle our live position, police saying they’re going to fire tear gas from the rooftops, thugs threatening us.. Had no choice”
“Now it’s complete chaos. Truly, it’s a battle zone out there that no words can describe #Alexandria”
“Police clearing the streets, putting out fires, still shooting tear gas. Seems like the battle street is theirs…at least 4 now #Alexandria”