(by Alexander Dziadosz and Yasmine Saleh) CAIRO (Reuters) – Police fought with thousands of Egyptians who defied a government ban Wednesday to protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old rule, firing tear gas at the crowds and dragging away demonstrators.
Protesters burned tires and hurled stones at police as groups gathered at different parts of the capital Cairo.
The scenes were unprecedented in the country, one of the United States’ closest Middle East allies, and follow the overthrow two weeks ago of another long-serving Arab strongman, Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in a popular revolt.
Activists had called on people to rally again after a “Day of Wrath” Tuesday of anti-government demonstrations across Egypt in which three protesters and one policeman were killed.
Security forces have arrested about 500 demonstrators over the two days, an Interior Ministry source said. Witnesses said officers, some in civilian clothes, hauled away people and bundled them into unmarked vans Wednesday.
Police fired shots into the air near the central Cairo court complex, witnesses said. In another area, they drove riot trucks into a crowd of about 3,000 people to force them to disperse.
A protester in the center of Cairo told Reuters: “The main tactic now is we turn up suddenly and quickly without a warning or an announcement. That way we gain ground.””
A frustrated security officer shouted: “We don’t know where they’ll turn up next.”
The coordinated anti-government protests were unlike anything witnessed in Egypt since Mubarak came to power in 1981 after president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.
The demonstrators complain of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and, inspired by the Tunisian revolt, demand that Mubarak step down.
The United States said it still supported Mubarak although it also backed Egyptians right of assembly and free speech.
Egypt remains a “close and important ally” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with U.S. President Barack Obama.
BATONS AND FACEBOOK
Hundreds of demonstrators had gathered early Wednesday outside the morgue in Suez demanding the release of the body of one of the three people killed there.
“The government has killed my son,” the Suez protesters chanted outside the morgue. “Oh Habib, tell your master, your hands are soiled with our blood,” they said, referring to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Cairo’s journalists’ union, where the authorities allow regular protests. Police beat some with batons when they tried to break a cordon. Protesters on buildings threw stones at police below.
Facebook has been a key means of communication for protesters but Egyptians said the site was blocked Wednesday. Twitter confirmed its site was blocked Tuesday, although users could still access it via proxy sites.
Demands posted on Facebook included the resignation of Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the dissolution of parliament and formation of a national unity government.
The complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia — soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand.
The prime minister said Wednesday the government was committed to allowing freedom of expression by legitimate means and said police in Tuesday’s demonstrations had acted with restraint.
Egypt’s population of 80 million is growing by 2 percent a year. About 60 percent of the population — and 90 percent of the unemployed — are under 30 years old. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.
Investors fretted over the instability. Egypt’s stock market, shut Tuesday for a holiday, fell 6 percent Wednesday, the Egyptian pound hit a six-year low against the U.S. dollar and the cost of insuring Egyptian debt against default rose.
(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Sarah Mikhail, Tom Pfeiffer and Patrick Werr; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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NOTE: Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s son, who is considered his successor, has fled to Britain along with his family, US-based Arabic website Akhbar al-Arab reported. The plane with Gamal Mubarak, his wife and daughter on board left for London Tuesday (1/25) from an airport in western Cairo, the website said.
1. a) Who is the president of Egypt – for how many years has he been the president?
b) What is the capital of Egypt?
c) What is the population of Egypt?
d) Approximately what percent of the population can read and write?
2. a) Why are Egyptians protesting in Egypt this week?
b) What is believed to have led to the protests?
3. What are protesters demanding from the government?
4. How is the Egyptian government responding to the protests?
5. How are protests affecting the Egyptian economy?
NOTE: Egypt is an ally of the U.S. (we give Egypt $2 billion a year in aid). Reports are that the scale of the protests in Egypt, which is ruled by an authoritarian leader, is unprecedented. This is a developing story. Follow the news to find out how the outcome will affect the U.S.’s efforts to fight terrorists in the Middle East, and to work on a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
ON EGYPT’S GOVERNMENT:
- Egypt formally gained independence from Britain in 1922 and acquired full sovereignty following World War II.
- After leading a coup that overthrew the monarchy in 1952, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled until his death in 1970.
- The constitution adopted in 1971 under his successor, Anwar al-Sadat, established a strong presidential system with nominal guarantees for political and civil rights that were not respected in practice.
- Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and built an alliance with the United States, which provided the Egyptian government with roughly $2 billion in aid annually [from the U.S.].
- Following Sadat’s assassination in 1981, then vice president Hosni Mubarak became president and declared a state of emergency, which has been in force ever since.
- A deterioration in living conditions and the lack of a political outlet for many Egyptians fueled an Islamist insurgency in the early 1990s.
- The authorities responded by jailing thousands of suspected militants without charge and cracking down on political dissent.
- Although the armed infrastructure of Islamist groups had been largely eradicated by 1998, the government continued to restrict political and civil liberties as it struggled to address Egypt’s dire socioeconomic problems.
- Economic growth in the late 1990s temporarily alleviated these problems, but the country experienced a downturn after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
- Popular disaffection with the government spread palpably, and antigovernment demonstrations were harshly suppressed by security forces.
- The government sought to cast itself as a champion of reform in 2004.
- Mubarak appointed a new cabinet of younger technocrats and introduced market-friendly economic reforms.
- However, associates of the president’s son Gamal, a rising star in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), received key economic portfolios, stoking concerns that the changes were simply preparations for a hereditary transition. …..
- The government postponed the 2006 municipal elections until 2008 and began a renewed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
- U.S. pressure for democratic reform had subsided after the Brotherhood’s recent gains and the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 Palestinian elections. ….. (from freedomhouse.org)
- It’s unclear. A widespread Islamist organization founded in 1928, the Brotherhood seeks to Islamize societies from the ground up and compel governments in Muslim countries to adhere to sharia, or Islamic law.
- At various times in its history, the group has used or supported violence and has been repeatedly banned in Egypt for attempting to overthrow Cairo’s secular government.
- Since the 1970s, however, the Egyptian Brotherhood has disavowed violence and sought to participate in Egyptian politics. The U.S. State Department does not include the group on its list of terrorist organizations.
- Still, the Egyptian government mistrusts the Brotherhood’s pledge of nonviolence and continues to ban the organization.
- One reason the Brotherhood’s commitment to nonviolence is unclear: The original Egyptian organization has spawned branches in 70 countries. These organizations bear the Brotherhood name, but their connections to the founding group vary and some of them may provide financial, logistical, or other support to terrorist organizations.
- Some terrorist groups-including Hamas, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, and al-Qaeda-have historic and ideological affiliations with the Egyptian Brotherhood.
- In addition, some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists were once Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members, including Osama bin Laden’s top deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The organization is like “stepping stone,” says Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant. (from cfr.org/publication/9248/does_the_muslim_brotherhood_have_ties_to_terrorism.html)
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