Protests in Solidarity with Sidi Bouzid Uprising & Egyptian National Unity
January 2, 2011
A protest stand in solidarity with Tunisia's "Sidi Bouzid Uprising" was forcefully dispersed by Egyptian police forces on Sunday evening. This stand was scheduled to take place in Downtown Cairo's Talaat Harb Square at 5pm, but hundreds of security forces had been deployed around the area in advance. This protest stand was thus thwarted along with another. The second protest stand, was scheduled for 6pm, in the same square - in solidarity with victims of the recent Alexandria church bombing.
The gravity of this domestic incident -- which left at least 21 dead and 79 injured -- along with its ensuing sectarian clashes, overshadowed the protest stand which was originally organized in solidarity with Sidi Bouzid. On Sunday night, A protest stand involving hundreds of Egyptian Muslims and Christians in Cairo's Shobra district
Moreover, prior to the Sidi Bouzid solidarity stand, local news had been filtering in throughout the day regarding other protest stands, marches, and clashes with police across Greater Cairo - led primarily by angry Coptic protesters.
Around a dozen activists and human rights advocates who had congregated at Talaat Harb Square, to express solidarity with the popular struggle in Tunisia, barely had enough time to unfurl their banners, or hold up their placards. Plain-clothed police forces wasted no time in pushing and shoving activists out of the square. Several journalists' were harassed and threatened with arrest, while four activists were briefly detained.
What was planned to be a solidarity stand quickly turned into a protest march. Scores of youth activists grouped-up along the way, and joined in a larger march which made its way to Ramses Street. Activists began chanting slogans in support of the popular struggles in Tunisia and Egypt, but these slogans shifted to more Egypt-centric concerns.
Chanting slogans for national unity among Egypt's Muslims and Christians became the focus of the protest march. "Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians," they chanted in Arabic, along with "Muslim and Coptic hand in hand, so we may bring about a new dawn."
Marching down the street a young female protester carried a sign reading "No to discrimination on the basis of religion."
Another protester, a veiled girl, carried a sign reading (in Arabic) "Give to Mariam what you give to Fatma, this is what real citizenship is about." The message being that Christians and Muslims should be treated as equal citizens in Egypt.
While this small group of activists was marching through Ramses Street, tens of other Egyptian opposition activists - primarily leftists and liberals- congregated outside the Journalists' Syndicate. Slogans were chanted against the ruling regime, and its perceived failure in protecting Egyptian Copts and Muslims. In other chants activists called on Muslims and Christians to overcome the problems of sectarianism.
Police forces quickly caught-up with the protest marchers on Ramses Street and ground their march to halt. Hundreds of riot police cordoned some 50 activists by the side of the street and upon its.sidewalk. In a police tactic know as "kettling" this cordon was increasingly tightened upon the protesters held within.
After more than an hour, plain-clothed policemen broke through the tightened cordon and assaulted activists including women. In response activists began chanting slogans against police officers and the Ministry of Interior, with some slogans calling for the dismissal of Interior Minister Habib el-Adly.
Activists were tightly restricted within this "kettle" for more than eight hours. Tens of protesters and journalists were slowly and gradually released. Yet about half the protesters remained "kettled" for over eight hours. One of the last activists to be released (name withheld) said the police "wouldn't let us out of the cordon because they were afraid that we would join the protesting Copts at their Cathedral in Abbasiya." The activist added "we were within walking distance from Abbasiya,"
Thousands of Copts were said to be protesting at the Cathedral, while several hundred angry Coptic protesters were reported to have clashed with police and hurled stones at security forces in protest against the Alexandria church bombing. Ramses Street was congested with traffic as police forces directed drivers away from Abbasiya. Ahmad Saeed Bridge, which leads to Abbasiya was closed to all traffic.
Although Cairo's solidarity stand with Sidi Bouzid was thwarted on Wednesday - for more than two weeks Egyptian activists, bloggers and human rights advocates have being expressing their on-line solidarity with the popular uprising in this Tunisian governorate. The uprising in Sidi Bouzid was sparked by the self-immolation of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17. As a public act of protest, Bouazizi - a street vendor - set himself alight outside a police station after his merchandise was confiscated.
Tens of thousands of Tunisians protested in response, and rioted in the Sidi Bouzid governorate. Four other suicide attempts in public were reported. The unrest spread from Sidi Bouzid to other governorates, cities and towns including Munastir, Sfax, Chebba, Shbikha, Soussa and Qairawan where thousands of Tunisians have protested against rising rates of unemployment and inflation amongst other grievances.
Scores of Tunisians have been arrested in the course of these events, with many more injured - some seriously as police have reportedly fired upon protesters and rioters. At least two men were shot dead in late December, and a third man killed himself by electrocution during a street protest.
Under pressure from these protests, Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali sacked the Governor of Sidi Bouzid, and three ministers were removed last week during a cabinet reshuffle .
On Wednesday night, a number of protesting Egyptian activists were drawing parallels between the uprising in Tunisia and increasing social unrest in Egypt.