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Egypt: Brutal Army Crackdown of Nakba Day Protests in Cairo

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

The Egyptian army cracked down with brutal force on a Nakba day protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on May 15, 2011, firing teargas, rubber-coated steel bullets – and, some reported, live bullets – at protesters.

More than 350 people were reported injured, while over 150 protesters were arrested pending military interrogation and trials, including prominent revolutionary youth reporting the events of the night on Twitter. Protesters as well as bystanders provided a gripping minute by minute narrative, complete with photos and videos, of the protests and the ensuing crackdown in the teargas filled streets of Cairo's Giza district.

As news broke of the bloody response by Israel to the Nakba (‘Day of Catastrophe’, as it is known in the Arab world) protests at its borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, protesters in downtown Cairo converged on the Israeli Embassy early in the afternoon.

At one of the largest protests up to date by the Israeli embassy. Twitpic photo by Mosaab Elshamy.

At one of the largest protests up to date by the Israeli embassy. Twitpic photo by Mosaab Elshamy.

Political activist and revolutionary media icon Gigi Ibrahim (@Gsquare86), back from a world tour of the lecture and media circuit, posted a video on YouTube showing scores of protesters chanting while clinging to the embassy fence, as security forces were deploying in front of the building:

The violence by security forces reportedly broke suddenly and unprovokedly, while protesters were demanding that the embassy flag be taken down:

@mosaaberizing: Large group of CSF [paramilitary Central Security Forces] troops just arrived at the embassy. Met with angry chants.

@3arabawy: csf pigs have fired tear gas and the army has shot in the air in front of israeli embassy in giza

@Gsquare86: The peaceful protesters at the #IsraeliEmbassy in#Cairo are doing nothing to the embassy, why are they firing tear gas and shooting in air?

@msheshtawy: First, people were just chanting, then some people removed the fence , but didn't enter or did ANYTHING to the army #israeliEmbassy cont.

@msheshtawy: They just stood there , the army didn't do a thing, were standing peacefully , then suddenly the police came #israeliEmbassy

Coverage quickly turned dramatic, reminiscent in tone of the 18 days of the revolution, as many protesters and journalists tweeted non-stop reports of the clashes and posted snapshots:

Police moves back, we come forward, they fire tear gas, we run back and throw rocks.. Yfrog photo by Gigi Ibrahim

Police moves back, we come forward, they fire tear gas, we run back and throw rocks.. Yfrog photo by Gigi Ibrahim

@Gsquare86: People r regrouping ..morad st is a battle zone police holding machine guns and non stop firing

@3arabawy: the firing of tear gas continues. Haven't seen as much fired since 28 jan

@LeilZahra: Tear gas is still raining. It is unbelievable. We can hardly breath. #Egypt #jan25 #nakba #may15

@arwasm: Silent streets. Only sounds of people running and shouting, women screaming, sirens, tear gas.#israeliembassy #egypt #jan25

@ianinegypt: Israeli Embassy is also next to the Cairo Zoo. Tear gas is drifting into the animals’ cages. #Egypt

@3arabawy: machine guns! They r firing machine guns into the air, after rounds of blank rounds

@Gsquare86: Tires are being set on fire in front of the zoo..police by embassy throwing rocks and firing tear gas non stop

@moftasa: Well everyone tweeting its like the 28 again .. it is. And it is not the bloody tear gas that we crave it's the adrenaline.

Tarek Shalaby posted several poorly lit dramatic live videos on Bambuser, showing protesters recovering from teargas [ar], and shouting as bursts of gunfire are heard close by [ar]. Amr Salama also posted live videos on Bambuser, showing ambulance crews treating protesters [ar], and spent ammunition casings used by security forces [ar].

Gigi IbrahimHossam HamalawyMostafa Hussein and others published photosets of the clashes on Flickr and Purephoto. A video by Gigi Ibrahim on YouTube features impressive footage of protesters regrouping after the first teargas attack:

Many protesters were injured or treated for respiratory problems caused by the heavy tear gas use by security forces. There were also multiple but unconfirmed reports of two possible fatalities:

@tarekshalaby: Young men just dropped to the ground in front of me. Prolly just temporary breathing problem…

@moftasa: From the ambulance radio: 4 cases suffocation.

@tarekshalaby: We're by kintaaki [KFC, Mubarak propaganda had claimed it was feeding Tahrir revolutionaries]. How ironic! Ambulance staying put to treat the injured. We're about 100 here…

@HebaAfify: Dozens of protesters keep losing consciousness and ambulances carry them out #isreliembassy

@Gsquare86: The last round of shots were delivered by military police ..that was the live amo..one shot in the head rushed him to hospital and 8 injured

@GSquare86: Video: (Grafic) of Aly khalaf he took a bullet in his stomach at 11:30 & still in the operating room now http://tinyurl.com/5uwbffq #may15

@monasosh: Reports of 2 dead. One bullet through the head, and another CSF truck ran over him

@alaa: so my baby sister spent the night carrying an injured protester trying to hide him from the army and get him to a hospital. hope he lives

@SheriefFarouk: Atef Yehia Ibrahim has been shot in the head during today's #Egypt demonstrations – pvt. hospitals won't take him, pub. ones will arrest him

An Al Jazeera crew was harassed by security forces, as correspondent Rawya Rageh reported:

@RawyaRageh@AJEnglish crew stopped & harrased by police & military. Our camera was confiscated alongside a number of personal items #Egypt

@RawyaRageh: State security goon bragged about his affiliation as he scatteredcontents of my purse & hurled insults at me calling me an ‘agent’ #Egypt

@RawyaRageh: Even my make up purse wasn't spared.. my medicine box.. they were checking for ‘drugs’ they said as they called me all sorts of names #Egypt

More than 120 protesters were arrested that night. Abdel Hamid Abdella (@meedo11) and Nadine Sabry (@nsanbry) provided photos, video and running commentary of the clashes and subsequent arrests right under their balcony:

@meedo11: Co ordinated attack from both sides of the road by state security and army on crowds in Giza #egypt

@meedo11: They have detained 15 people at least, they are tying them on the ground. Gun shots. Scary #giza#egypt

@nsabry: Army and police arresting ppl right under our house like the good old days! Violence and army guns! #giza

@nsabry: All protestors lying on the floor getting arrested with their hands on their hands on their backs surronded by 2amn dawla and army #giza

Friends and family of protesters quickly coordinated information on Twitter to find out who were missing. Among them were Tahrir “veteran” Mosa'ab Elshamy (@mosaaberizing), whose Twitter bio reads “I revolted and overthrew a dictator”, and Tarek Shalaby (@tarekshalaby), proprietor of the Freedom Motel in Tahrir Square, who led an aid convoy into Libya.

Both tweeted their own arrests (Amira Al Hussaini wrote about the subsequent campaigns to have them released on Global Voices):

@tarekshalaby: Shit! We've been ambushed! Army coming from other side. Ran into side street…

@Gsquare86: according to @meedo11 who saw the arrest of@tarekshalaby said they took around 18 people..which means @3effat@mosaaberizing too :(

@abdallahelshamy: My brother @mosaaberizing has been missing since an hour. I hold the Egyptian army and police total responsibility of his safety.

@abdallahelshamy: My brother @mosaaberizing just called me on the phone and said he's detained in a csf truck in front of Modyryet Amn ElGiza

@norashalaby: Confirmed. Friend called from scene and said that @tarekshalaby has been arrested by the army

video posted on YouTube by Abdella and Sabry, showing the arrest of a group of protesters, included Mosa'ab Elshamy and Tarek Shalaby, according to Gigi Ibrahim:

Also arrested along with Shalaby and Elshamy, but later released, was video journalist Mohamed Effat (@3effat):

@3effat: people i am home and safe, i was the only one released, army and police have around 50 to 60 people detained #israelembassy #may15

Another Twitter user translated harrowing reports of Effat's and others’ arrests from Arabic:

@ysalah: Tr. @3effat Whoever looked up would be smacked on the neck. An 8yrold was sobbing & they hit him. They took us 2 the corniche next 2 embassy

@ysalah: Tr. @3effat They spewed insults & cuss words: fags of the rev, you facebook people. Officer looked @ soldiers & said “we brought you dinner”

@ysalah: Tr. @gemyhood Mahmoud Hassan Ahmed Elsadaty arrested; called us from truck which is on Nile St. & has 24 ppl & he's been severely tortured

As the night wore on into dawn, the revolutionary youth fell into disbelief and abject anger that the army would descend into such brutality, after staying it's hand during the 18 days of the revolution. Blogger Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey, felt livid and conflicted, as he was about to travel abroad to accept an award on behalf of those same revolutionaries being beaten and arrested by the “guardian of the revolution”:

@Sandmonkey: The night of my flight to accept a USF honorary doctorate for “the youth of the revolution”, some of those best youth gets detained by army!

@Sandmonkey: Should I even fuckin go? Honestly? What kind of inspirational speech will I be giving when those same people are now in jail?

And Gigi Ibrahim tweeted tersely:

@Gsquare86: i feel numb and can't think

@Gsquare86: how will the army justify this? #iWantToKnow

For more information, the author of this report compiled a live account of the Nakba crackdown in Cairo using Storify, in mostly chronological order.

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Revolution 2011.

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