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Eight months after the removal of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian protestors have returned to Tahrir Square. Sokari Ekine looks at bloggers’ reflections on the latest developments.

Eight months after the removal of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian revolutionaries have returned to Tahrir Square as hundreds of thousands protest, calling for an end to military rule. It is useful to briefly mention the extent of the US government’s role in maintaining the Egyptian military and the similarities in response by both Egypt and the US to peaceful protest by their citizens. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel. It receives US$2 billion annually, most of which goes to the military complex for training and military hardware – including the tear gas and other weaponry being used against ordinary citizens.

To date over 12,000 people have been detained and sent to military courts and subjected to torture. The number of killed and injured is impossible to tell but according to Democracy Now! the numbers could well be in the hundreds and thousands respectively. As hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to gather in Tahrir Square, fierce battles continue to take place on the side streets leading to the square where most of the deaths and injuries are taking place.

Pan-African News reported on the use of Israeli-made weapons:

‘“There is ample evidence showing that the security forces use prohibited weapons against the citizens, which have recently been imported from Israel and the US," Taqadom al-Khatib told FNA.

‘Also, another senior Egyptian politician said on Tuesday that the country's interim authorities were using Israeli-made weapons and riot gear, including tear gas canisters, against the people.’

Canisters of CR Gas made in the US and which have expired for as much as five years have been found. The gas, which is listed as being banned, has also been used in the US, Israel and Sri Lanka.

CR gas causes severe pulmonary damage, as well as causing damage to the heart and liver. It is also reported to increase the risk of miscarriages, according to international studies of the substance.

A lethal does can be inhaled within minutes if in a poorly ventilated area.

According to the United States Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, CR emits ‘very toxic fumes’ when heated to decomposition, and at specified concentrations CR gas is an immediate danger to life and health. The report also stated that those exposed to CR gas should ‘seek medical attention immediately.’

In large doses, human tissues have also revealed that cyanide levels in the body are discovered. It can also ‘melt’ one’s skin if sweat on the body comes into contact with the substance.

In a statement on the determination of the protestors Hossam El-Hamalawy (Arabawy) wrote:

‘It's an intifada a la 25 Jan now.. three friends have lost their eyes, and more in coma . . . the attack by the army is very brutal but the resistance is impressive. More soon.’

El-Hamalawy explains the demands of the people for the removal of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the mobilisation which is taking place across the country including the call for a general strike. Just as Mubarak was brought down by a massive general strike, so the people believe this action will bring down the military.

In Egypt and in the global Occupy Movement party politics and politics in general are becoming increasingly marginal to the power of the social forces occupying on the streets, squares, universities, blocks and church steps. This is not to say the forthcoming elections are not taken seriously but as the chart by The Arabist shows, they are not a priority for everyone at this moment and much work has to be done in building trust between people and potential political leaders.

Alongside the continuing protests over the past four days, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights together with four other human rights organisations announced they have begun to collect evidence and testimonies of the ‘deliberate violence’ being committed by military and civilian officials and they intend to prosecute those involved in the brutal attacks against protestors:

‘The signatory organizations denounced the fallacious statements made by military officials to the media yesterday, in which they claimed that the role of the military police was limited to securing the Interior Ministry building without engaging with demonstrators. The organizations confirmed that their representatives had themselves witnessed military police forces storming Tahrir Square at around 5pm on Sunday 20th November and brutally assaulting demonstrators with batons, before setting fire to tents and demonstrators' belongings, along with a number of motorbikes. Video clips broadcast on the al-Masry al-Youm website and al-Jazeera Live Egypt show members of the military and civilian police attacking unarmed demonstrators from three sides of the square, using armed personnel carriers, tear gas bombs and batons. They show police hitting demonstrators a number of times on their heads with batons and their feet, after they had fallen to the ground, until demonstrators had completely stopped moving.’

The No Military Trials for Civilians has published a list of detainees (in Arabic) and a list of upcoming solidarity actions in cities across the world. One of the thousands of detainees, blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah has written another blog entry from the prison where he has been held since October 30th. The post provides us with a different way of understanding the similarities and differences between Egypt and Tunisia both of which he sees as being held hostage by the State:

‘...if the Constitution is delayed Presidential elections are delayed and military rule extended. But as soon as work on the Constitution starts the polarization will start, parliament and the parties will be pulled into it, and we can forget any legislative reforms or any real control on the performance of the military or the government.

‘Like Tunis, our revolution did not seize power, and like Tunis the counter-revolution and the remnants of the old regime have taken the State hostage.......It’s time to admit that Egypt is like Tunis; that a revolution without a central command, a revolution that embraces profoundly differing currents which have no broad mass base to ease the resolving of these differences – will not seize power except through elections. Negotiating with SCAF will not resolve this, and attempts to find common ground before the elections will not work............If we accept that Egypt is like Tunis, we should do what Tunis did: we pull together and press for full power to be invested in the first elected body; the legitimacy of the representatives of the people should cancel every other legitimacy…’

Last week Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, betrayed by his guide, was captured by Zintan rebels forces somewhere south of the country in the Sahara. He is presently being held in Zintan and according to one report at ‘grave risk’. Pro Gaddafi blog, Libya 360, which may or may not be run by a non-Libyan, has published a petition calling for the safety and surrender of Gaddafi’s son to the ICC. In what is beginning to sound like a tragicomedy, another blog Libyans Against SuperPower Media asks readers not to sign the petition as this implies Gaddafi is guilty of crimes against humanity. Their desperation is palpable as they claim Gaddafi is safer with the Zintan elders than with the National Transitional Council (NTC) or the International Criminal Court (ICC).

I doubt there will be many signings and even if there were, it’s doubtful the NTC or NATO countries would listen anyway. Of course Gaddafi still has his supporters – who have now become the ‘rebels’ or ‘resistance’ known as the ‘Green Force’ fighting for a ‘free Libya’!

In a strange speech, we are shown Saif discussing his capture:

‘It was agreed that I would be treated here in Zintan because there is a medical facility and there was anesthetic for the operation that I needed. We are sitting here with our families, with our brothers and there is no problem. We have talked a lot regarding my medical condition’.

In a second video, also in Zintan, he is seen with a group of Libyan fighters being treated very well as one helps him with his clothes. He talks to them about the NTC saying he has ‘walked through the valley they are now trying to climb up’. He seems relaxed, almost holding court as he informs them of his betrayal by members of the NTC who defected from Gaddafi, implying they are not to be trusted and nothing good will come of following them. In a situation where there are tensions between the various factions of former rebels, this appears to be a divisive tactic on his part.

It will be interesting to see where these blogs and the ‘Libyan Resistance’ are in three to six months time!


* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.