Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators beaten, arrested in Cairo

"We're trying to change the emergency law that we've been living with for 28 years," said Amal Sharaf, who was beaten at a Cairo rally. At least 90 demonstrators were detained.
"We're trying to change the emergency law that we've been living with for 28 years," said Amal Sharaf, who was beaten at a Cairo rally. At least 90 demonstrators were detained. (Janine Zacharia/the Washington Post)

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By Janine Zacharia
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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

At least 90 people were detained, according to rally organizers from the 6th of April movement, a mostly youth-led organization that was formed two years ago and 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 for next year. President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who had his gallbladder and a growth on his small intestine removed in surgery performed abroad last month, has ruled Egypt for nearly three decades. He has not said whether he will compete in next year's election, fueling speculation that he might try to ensure that his son Gamal succeeds him.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Egypt in February and has become a prominent opposition leader, calling for reforms including a repeal of the emergency law.

Authorities had denied the 6th of April movement a permit to demonstrate Tuesday, but it decided to protest anyway.

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 the parliament building.

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

Police initially surrounded the protesters 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 people's cameras and ordered passersby and journalists to stop taking photos.

"I'm very disappointed," said Mohamed Safeyeldin, managing director of business development at a construction company, as he watched the police round up demonstrators and looked for his son in the fray. He said it was his first time attending 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 that the streets would not become chaotic. He declined to give his name and hung up.


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