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Egypt: Clashes in Abbasseya

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

Yesterday, Egyptian demonstrators marched from Tahrir Square to the Ministry of Defense demanding the trial of Mubarak and his former regime and asking their military rulers to speed up reforms, as well as the cessation of military trials for civilians. Some chants called for an end to the country's military rule as well.

A drawing by Carlos Latuff. showing the Supreme Council of Armed Forces using the media to tell people revolts are treacherous.

A drawing by Carlos Latuff. showing the Supreme Council of Armed Forces using the media to tell people revolts are treacherous.

The exact number of protesters is not known, yet there were various speculations. Ahmed Gharbeia – who was in the protest – commented [ar]:

الأعداد كانت معقولة بالنظر إلى اليوم و الوقت و الحشد المضاد ال كان الجيش بيعمله قبلها بيومين. في أقصى حجم لها في الثلث الاوسط من شارع رمسيس المسيرة المسيرة كانت حوالي 5000، لكني كنت باسمع من الناس حولي تقديرات من نوعية 10 آلاف و 30 ألف

The numbers were significant compared to the timing of the protest, and the counter-propaganda the army made in the past two days. The demonstration reached its peak in the middle of Ramsis Street with about 5000 persons, however I heard speculations for 10 and 30 thousands.

All was peaceful till the protest reached Al-Nour Mosque in Abbasseya where the army cordoned protesters, blocking the street with military wagons and fire trucks. The number of protesters then appeared to be much less than that at the beginning. After a while people in nearby streets and on rooftops started throwing stones and molotov cocktails at the protesters. It's not clear whether the attackers are thugs or residents of the Abbasseya district who fell prey to the ongoing propaganda against the demonstrators. Gigi Ibrahim – who was in the protest – wrote today on twitter:

@Gsquare86: The people in Abbasya fighting us were both police thugs and neighbourhood [people] who were told we are coming to destroy their shops & attack

@Gsquare86: Last night's battle was so unneeded cuz after all we were fighting brainwashed people not even police (until the end) nor military police

Zeinobia was expecting the whole thing to happen and wrote about how she urged people on Twitter to cancel the march as it might not be their best move now:

I have expected this attack since the morning and unfortunately when I shared my concerns and asked the people to cancel the march, I was being attacked and accused of being Mubarak’s regime and being a coward, etc. Already I did not like the idea of the march and going to the ministry of defence, again the army is not the police and the majority of Egyptian like the army and do not like the police, if you claim otherwise then you do not know the real Egyptian people and live in illusions.
We should have new strategy and tactics , one of the major generals in SCAF once said that they do not act except if they see millions in Tahrir Square and other squares then this should be our primary focus. We have to be united again, we are divided now and no longer united .

The night before, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) issued two official statements after an earlier smaller march that had also headed to Abbasseya which came after clashes that took place in Suez, Alexandria and Ismailia. In the first statement, SCAF accused April-6 movement of contaminating the relation between the people and the army, and turning them against it.

SCAF then in the following statement thanked the citizens that formed a cordon between the military police and the protesters in yesterday's march to the Ministry of Defense; it also blamed some websites for turning the people against the army.

Esraa El-Taweel also tweeted earlier [ar] warning the protesters that people in Abbasseya are preparing themselves to defend their district from what they think are thugs. But what made the residents believe the protesters are thugs? Hossam El-Hamalawy – who was there – wrote here how the district was prepared to this attack:

The army has been inciting against our march already for days on the state-run channels, accusing the Tahrir protesters of being “thugs, foreign agents” bla bla bla. The army also, according to Abbassiya residents I spoke with, has been going around in the neighbourhood since the previous night, telling people in the neighbourhood that they “will be attacked by foreign paid thugs” the follow day. Those “foreign paid thugs” were of course, us.
Those who attacked us yesterday included criminal thugs from the Waily district, but also some residents of Abbassiya who did buy the army’s lies. The army was already on the roof tops before our arrival, the same roof tops Molotov cocktails and rocks were showered at us from.

He then continued.

The army stood silent, watching the battle ground, hoping the thugs and the residents would finish us off, while the police was more than happy to join in by throwing rounds and rounds of tear gas. We managed to return to Tahrir in small groups via the neighbouring hospital late at night.

Dalia called what happened [ar] a trap set by the SCAF. Ahmed Gharbeia had a different point of view, and he wrote that it was clear that the attackers were not thugs, but were residents told to defend their district. And that's why he believed they – the protesters – had to follow a different strategy instead of attacking back and throwing stones back on the attackers:

هل حدث أن ناس اندفعوا في البداية المبكرة المناوشات من الشارع الجانبي الملاصق للجيش بسلاح أبيضو هددوا المتظاهرين و استفزوهم و ألقوا عليهم زجاجات بلاستيك: أيوة حصل.
لكن الحل في رأيي كان أن المتظاهرين يمتصوا الاستفزاز، و يعلنوا أنهم مش جايين يتخانقوا مع أهالي المنطقة و يصروا على سلميتهم تجاههم، و يبدأوا مفاوضات معهم. لكن القلة سريعة الاستفزاز هي ال سيطرت

Is it true that some people came from the nearby site streets and threatened the protesters with their knives and started throwing plastic bottles on them? Yes, it happened.
But the solution in my opinion was to ignore their provocations, and make it clear that we are not here to fight with the residents of the district, insist to keep our protest peaceful, and start negotiating with them. But the provoked minority in the crowd are ones who lead the scene.

The Egyptian blogger El-Azul wrote that activists now have to stop being disrespectful of those that disagree even if they do so violently, and to start thinking about how they can win the hearts and minds of the people. Zeinobia also wrote:

We are losing the Egyptian street more and more , anyone tells you that other that or says that we do not need the Egyptian street , please remind him that the revolution , real revolution in those 18 days would not see the light the Egyptian street. Revolutionary arrogance is a deadly sin along with revolutionary romanticism.

Another blogger, Sharif Abdel-Aziz, believes it was the Abbasseya resident's right to defend their district and the SCAF against those revolts who are ruining their lives [ar]:

سكان العباسية ليسوا بلطجية بل مصريين سئموا من البلطجة باسم الثورة …وسئموا ” العيشة واللي عايشينها ” وعلي النخبة ان تفهم ان الجيش هو اكبر خط احمر ..وان المجلس العسكري وطني يحمي مصر من الانهيار …حان الوقت لطي صفحة البلطجة باسم الثورة والتمحك في دم الشهداء .

The residents of Abbasseya are not thugs, but they are just Egyptians who are sick of that bullying in the name of the revolution. They are tired of their lives and how it turned to be. And the elites have to understand that the army is a red line, and the patriotic military junta is protecting Egypt from collapse. It's time to stop bulling in the name of the revolution and stop monopolizing the blood of the martyrs.

In times like these, it is normal to have different points of views, even those who were there each have his own interpretations, and that's why Salma Said wrote the following [ar]:

اوحش حاجة في احداث زي امبارح ان كل حد عنده نظرية لتفسير اليوم يتعامل مع الباقي كاغبياء, كلنا كنا هناك والامر كان مربك. بطلوا خناق مع بعض بقى

The worst thing about yesterday that each has his own interpretation of what happened and sees those who disagree with him as idiots. We all were there yet it was confusing, so stop fighting with each other.

And finally, Al-Masry Al-Youm published a video from the protest, and She2i2 summed up the number of reported injured so far and also wrote about the abduction of Ahmed Ghareya's brother, Amr Gharbeya, who was later released:

Some 200 activists, and dozens of local residents/thugs, were injured in these clashes. Several protesters were reported to be arrested; along with the abduction and disappearance of Activist/Blogger Amr Gharbeia.

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

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