Egyptian police break up pro-democracy demonstration

Egyptian police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators in front of the Shoura Council, the upper house of the parliament, on Tuesday. Protesters were calling for constitutional reforms and a repeal of the decades-old emergency law that restricts a broad array of personal rights.
By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 1:25 PM

CAIRO -- Egyptian police on Tuesday beat back and detained pro-democracy demonstrators in central Cairo calling for constitutional reforms and a repeal of the decades-old emergency law that restricts a broad array of personal rights.

At least 90 people were detained, according to organizers of the rally from the 6th of April movement, a mostly youth-led organization formed two years ago that is pushing for more political freedom.

Protester Amal Sharaf, 35, an office manager in an advertising agency, was hysterical after being beaten by a police officer with a baton. "I've been to protests before, but I've never been beaten," she said, grabbing her wounded arm. "We're trying to change the emergency law that we've been living with for 28 years."

The demonstration came amid political uncertainty, with parliamentary elections slated for this year and a presidential election next year. President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who had his gall bladder and a growth on his small intestine removed in a surgery performed abroad last month, has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades. He has not said yet whether he will compete in next year's election, fueling speculation that he might try to ensure his son, Gamal, succeeds him.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Egypt last month and has become a prominent opposition leader, calling for reforms including a repeal of the emergency law that allows wide detentions and prohibits large gatherings that could be perceived as agitating against the government. He is also advocating term limits for the president and other changes to the political system to ensure parties can compete freely in elections.

Authorities denied the 6th of April movement a permit to demonstrate Tuesday, but it decided to go ahead with the protest anyway. The group issued a statement before the rally urging the police not to harm the demonstrators. "Nothing will stop us from loving our country and hoping to change it," the group said.

Police, some dressed in riot gear, others in plain clothes, filled Tahrir Square at noon Tuesday and waited outside metro stations for demonstrators, who had originally planned to march from the square to parliament.

Instead, a few hundred demonstrators ended up gathering on the sidewalk outside the Shoura Council, the upper house of the parliament, on Kasr al-Aini Street.

Police initially surrounded the protesters, who were waving Egyptian flags, carrying signs that said "No to Emergency Law, a New Constitution," and chanting "Long live Egypt," and tried to keep them out of traffic. They then began to beat some demonstrators with batons and haul them one by one into blue trucks. Police confiscated peoples' cameras and ordered passersby and journalists to stop taking photos.

The protest migrated across the street to the front of the Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit and more demonstrators were arrested there. Police chased other demonstrators who were trying to run away in Tahrir Square.

"I'm very disappointed,'' said Mohamed Safeyeldin, managing director of business development at an Egyptian construction company, as he watched the police round up the demonstrators and looked for his son in the fray. He said it was his first time at a demonstration. "We have to change this constitution. We can't continue like this," he said.

A person who answered the phone in the media office of the Interior Ministry said the forces dealt with the demonstrators as is customary to ensure the streets would not become chaotic. He declined to give his name and hung up.

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