Departure Friday for Mubarak - millions protest in Egypt

Friday was declared 'Departure Friday' by democracy protesters in Egypt as a second Friday of mass protest was been called to drive president Mubarak from his 30 year reign. Huge numbers took part in these protests.

Recent days have seen intense street fighting as protesters had to defend themselves from mobs mobilised in a desperate bid by Mubarak to hold onto power.  Meanwhile there are dozens of disturbing reports of secret police arresting protesters at their homes and workplaces.  There has also been a sustained violent campaign against journalists which has forced the majority of them off the streets and onto balconies around the square.  On Friday morning Aj Jazeera had its Cairo offices trashed.

An enormous demonstration took place in Cairo, Al Jazeera estimated it involved two million people.  Alexandria also had a huge demonstration, a journalist on Al Jazeera has described it as the biggest ever, numbering hundreds of thousands if not millions. The huge crowd chanted 'the people demand the collapse of the regime, the people demand the collapse of the president'  and 'Leave, leave, leave.'  In Tahir square they chanted 'The Pharaoh is a traitor.'  100,000 protesters were reported to have gathered in Damanhour, about 100 miles north west of Cairo.  25,000 were said to be demonstrating in Suez, 30,000 protesters in Tanta.  Estimates as high as 5 million have been given for the number of demonstrators across Egypt. Around curfew the crowd went wild in Tahir square, it turned out a false rumor had swept the crowd that Mubarak had resigned.  When it was realised the rumor was false they then started chanting 'he will soon'.

The ongoing repression of the press is shown by the fact Al Jazeera is having to 'broadcast' via broadband and for security reasons is unable to name the specific journalists reporting from the protests, they have already had many journalists arrested. Jack Shenker from the Guardian has reported that he and another journalist were picked up by the army and made to kneel facing a wall and interrogated. They then had to deal with machete-wielding vigilantes. "We were taken at a checkpoint and led to the ministry of the interior … We were held for two hours … and we were both warned that if we came anywhere near the square again, things wouldn't go so nicely for us."

There were only limited signs of the pro regime mob that attacked demonstrations earlier in the week and whom many on the ground claimed included large numbers of serving policemen and criminals who had been released from jail and paid $17 to attack the protests.  Reporters say that the protesters have well organised groups screening people as they approach the demonstration to check ID's and for weapons. Al Jazeera has shown a picture of a secret policeman with his ID who was discovered infiltrating the crowd.  There are several layers of checkpoints including military ones checking people on the way to demonstrations. A small pro Mubarak demonstration of around 3,000 was been reported in Giza with claims that people have been paid to attend but Al Jazeera is reporting that among the crowd in Tahir square are those who say they previously opposed the democracy movement but have now been won over.  

Al Jazeera also reports that around 300 members of Mubarak gang were seen near one of the bridges to the square where some of the most intense fighting happened earlier in the week.  Small confrontations weren reported near the square, including some rock throwing battles. Later in the afternoon a mob of 500 Mubarak supporters tried to cross the 6th October Bridge towards the demonstration but were blocked by an army tank which drove onto the bridge.  Unlike earlier in the week it appears the army is intervening to prevent clashes, perhaps indicative of a shift within the command.

On Thursday night a sniper shot a number of protesters near Tahir square, apparently with a military long range rifle.  As the same time newly appointed Vice President Suleiman was announcing some minor concessions on TV as the regime tried to cling to power.  Thursday also saw the regime also threw overboard some ministers who are particularly associated with Mubarak.  This included the former Minister of the Interior who has been told not to leave the country and whose assets have been frozen, the same thing happened to the Tourism Minister and the Housing Minister as well as a member of the ruling council of the NDP who is one of Egypt's major billionaires.  In the case of the former Interior Minister the new Interior Minister announced that he was also being investigated as to why he had ordered the police off the streets last Friday and what connection he had with the chaos of the last few days.  All this indicates a regime willing to make sacrifices to hold onto power, it is not fundamental reform, something confirmed by the wave of repression that has been unleashed by the secret police against democracy activists.

On Friday Rachid Mohamed Rachid the former minister of trade was added to this list when it was announced he was his having assets frozen - he owns a significant stake in the Egyptian operation of Unilever demonstrating the same sort of connections between those with political power and the richest 1% of the population that we find in Ireland and everywhere else.  State TV carried an interview with a protester where a statement was read out, at this point its not clear if this represented a shift at one of the regimes core prop's or a dirty trick as the person reading the statement went on to say the protests were organised by the Muslim brotherhood.

Those targetted for these arrests have included bloggers.  One who blogs and tweets as sandmonkey was arrested as he drove a car with medical supplies to Tahir square on the 3rd.  However as an indication of the declining power of the regime they were forced to release him due to the enormous attention the arrest received, on release they tweeted that "I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken .. Please don't respond to my phone or BBM. This isn't me. My phone was confiscated by a thug of an officer who insults those who call."

Sandmonkeys last blog written after hours of the protesters in Tahir square just before arrest was very dark, warning that "I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay "because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people". This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can't. I am heading to Tahrir right now with supplies for the hundreds injured, knowing that today the attacks will intensify, because they can't allow us to stay there come Friday, which is supposed to be the game changer. We are bringing everybody out, and we will refuse to be anything else than peaceful. If you are in Egypt, I am calling on all of you to head down to Tahrir today and Friday. It is imperative to show them that the battle for the soul of Egypt isn't over and done with. I am calling you to bring your friends, to bring medical supplies, to go and see what Mubarak's gurantees look like in real life. Egypt needs you. Be Heroes." 

Since then the mob has been called off and elements of the regime as we have seen are trying to buy the movement off with concessions and by ditching some ministers.  The question remains as to whether the enormous movement on the streets will accept this as enough or whether it will organise to sweep all of them from power.  As the ongoing repression shows it is far too early to be sure that Mubarak will go without a major massacre.

WORDS: Andrew (first published on WSM.IE)

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