Egyptian Clashes Draw in Islamists (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By CHARLES LEVINSON CAIRO, EGYPT 05/05/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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CAIRO—Egyptian security forces and plainclothed men clashed with
thousands of protestors in downtown Cairo on Friday, killing at least
one person and leaving hundreds wounded.
It was the second fatal outburst in Cairo in three days, sharpening a
showdown with the country´s ruling generals at a critical stage in
Egypt´s messy transition to democratic rule. In less than three
weeks, Egyptians will vote in the first stage of a presidential
election meant to mark the end of military rule in the country.
Protestors who fought with soldiers are critical of how the country´s
ruling generals, who have overseen Egypt since Hosni Mubarak´s
February 2011 ouster, are handling the country´s transition. The
protesters have focused in particular on the generals´ management of
the presidential elections, fearing they are intent on holding on to
power, a charge the generals have denied.
The presidential vote is due to begin on May 23, with a runoff set
for June 16.
The latest round of violence is troubling for drawing new political
forces into the fray. The front lines in Friday´s clashes consisted
in part of hardline Islamist Salafis who had long refused to enter
into open confrontation with the ruling military. But some Salafis
have grown increasingly defiant after their favored presidential
candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail, was banned from running on the grounds
that his mother has American citizenship.
The latest violence began Wednesday, as Mr. Abu Ismail´s supporters
were the primary participants in a sit-in outside a Ministry of
Defense compound in downtown Cairo. They were attacked by what
protesters said were plainclothed thugs, leaving at least 11 people
dead. The military warned Thursday that they wouldn´t tolerate future
demonstrations in front of the compound, which houses the ruling
military council´s headquarters.
On Friday, as a peaceful demonstration in Cairo´s central Tahrir
Square drew to a close, thousands of protestors marched a few blocks
away to the military headquarters and pressed up against its barbed-
"The people want to execute the field marshal," some protestors
chanted, referring to Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, Egypt´s top
general. A cleric with a megaphone called on rank-and-file soldiers
to abandon their posts and join demonstrators.
"The army has to choose, the military council or the revolution," the
cleric shouted. The soldiers appeared not to heed the call.
Amid the group of protestors were those waving the flag of the
staunchly secular Revolutionary Socialist movement, and the black-and-
white flag favored by militant jihadi groups across the region,
including Al Qaeda.
The sight of hardline Islamists battling the military in the streets
is likely to be jarring to more secular Egyptians who still remember
the violent insurrection that militant Islamist waged against Mr.
Mubarak´s government in the 1990s.
Shortly after 3 p.m., the shouting and taunting gave way to violent
confrontation. What exactly triggered it remained unclear. Some said
soldiers grabbed three protestors out of the crowd. Others said
protestors began to break through the barricades, prompting soldiers
to react more forcefully. State television broadcast graphic footage
of the clashes, suggesting the military has calculated that it has
the sympathy of the majority of Egyptians.
Soldiers and protestors began hurling fist-sized rocks at each other,
before the military wheeled out water cannons and tear gas to
disperse protestors, charging down the street in a phalanx of helmet
clad riot police with iron shields, several witnesses said. These
people said that as protestors retreated from the advancing phalanx,
the plainclothed men joined the fray, attacking protestors with rocks
The so-called thugs—baltagiya in Arabic—have broken up a number of
demonstrations in recent months. Protestors say the thugs are paid
mercenaries hired by the military. The military says they are angry
local residents who don´t want the demonstrators coming to their
By nightfall, plumes of smoke were rising from the streets in front
of the defense ministry headquarters. The Ministry of Health said 296
people were wounded in the clashes, according to state television,
and one member of the security forces was killed.
Late Friday night, there were signs that some groups involved in the
clashes were seeking calm. In Abbasiya, the neighborhood where they
occurred, the military imposed an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew. A member
of the ruling military council, Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla, said in a
televised address that the military would "decisively confront" any
violations of the curfew.
Meanwhile a prominent hardline Salafi group, the Gamaa Islamiya,
denounced the violence in a statement and urged protestors to confine
themselves to Tahrir Square, where protests have generally been
permitted in recent months.
The April 6 movement, a group of more secular-minded revolutionaries
who were among those involved in Friday´s clashes, called for
followers to withdraw from the flashpoint in Abbasiya, in a statement.
It remains unclear how the violent flareups will impact Egypt´s
presidential elections. During similar outbursts of violence in the
runup to parliamentary elections last fall, many candidates´
supporters were directly involved in the violence.
But Egypt´s leading presidential contenders have mostly kept their
distance from the latest violence, with some going about their
routine campaign activities even as the clashes were raging. —Summer
Said contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company,
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