Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Egyptians march in unprecedented anti-Mubarak protests

CAIRO (AFP) - Hundreds of Egyptians demanded the departure of President Hosni Mubarak in an unprecedented string of nationwide demonstrations against the regime, despite efforts by security forces to prevent the protests.

Protestors heeded the call of the Kefaya movement in Cairo and the northern cities of Alexandria and Mansura, in the largest popular action against the 76-year-old ruler to date.

Security forces were deployed in thousands to thwart what some commentators have suggested could one day lead to Egypt's own 'velvet revolution' and organisers said 30 protestors were briefly detained across the country.

In Cairo, the capital's chief of security himself ordered dozens of protesters heading towards the parliament building to retreat or face arrest, forcing the organisers to take the protest to the journalists' union building.

"Enough, enough," the protestors sang, using a familiar opposition refrain against a new term for the veteran Egyptian leader, who has been in office since 1981.

"Leave!" the crowd chanted, in a public expression of defiance against Mubarak unthinkable only a few months ago.

Some 300 to 400 protestors attempted to hold a similar demonstration in Alexandria, the country's second city, but were prevented from gathering by security forces.

One of the main organisers from the Kefaya movement, Georges Isaac, told AFP that 20 anti-Mubarak activists were rounded up in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and 10 in the Nile Delta town of Mansura, further east.

"The heavy intervention of the police offers evidence of the government's fear in the face of the awakening of the Egyptian people, who is demanding a real democracy," he said.

Isaac added that they were all released a few hours later.

In Alexandria, hundreds of demonstrators from the ruling National Democratic Party swiftly took the place of the dispersed anti-Mubarak activists and chanted slogans begging their leader to remain in power and lambasting "foreign intervention".

Some leading figures of Egypt's burgeoning movement for democratic reform has been receiving the support of the United States, angering the authorities in Cairo.

The fresh security crackdown on protestors came after thousands of police successfully thwarted a pro-reform political rally called by Egypt's banned but influential Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on Sunday, arresting 50 people.

While the Muslim Brothers and the Kefaya movement both ask for constitutional reform, increased political freedom and the lifting of the 24-year-old state of emergency, the Islamist movement has taken a more conciliatory stance towards the president himself.

Mubarak asked lawmakers last month to amend the constitution to allow for the first multi-candidate presidential elections in Egypt's history.

But many in the opposition charge that the amendments still greatly curb the possibility of parties fielding candidates as they must first be approved by parliament, which is dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Kefaya is a motley gathering of activists from various political persuasions, including leftists, Islamists, Nasserites and liberals.

The past three months have also seen the rise of Ayman Nur, who leads the opposition Al-Ghad party and whose six-week detention made him a symbol of the movement for democratic reform.

Thousands of security forces had deployed in central Cairo ahead of the Kefaya protest, organised in a bid to step up the pressure against Mubarak before he decides whether or not to run for a fifth term in office.

Traffic slowed to a crawl as helmeted, shield-carrying and club-wielding forces took up positions at strategic locations, key government buildings and the US and British embassies.

Layers of riot police deployed in tight formations erected metal barriers around the parliament building and at streets leading into the city centre in order to prevent any advances by the protestors.

Street demonstrations are banned in Egypt by emergency laws that have been in place since president Anwar al-Sadat's assassination in 1981.
And the beat goes on. Let's hope they are listening to our drummer.