Demonstrators, bystanders assaulted and harassed on streets of downtown
CAIRO: Political activists from opposition group The Street is Ours called for a demonstration in front of downtown’s Metro Cinema on Tuesday afternoon to demand government accountability for the alleged instances of sexual and physical harassment that took place in front of the movie theater during Eid Al-Fitr.
On the heels of a similar protest a week earlier, organizers expected hundreds to turn out to the afternoon rally. Instead, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes security officers aggressively suppressed their efforts, while over a dozen troop transports and armored vehicles lined side streets in downtown.
“This is our Egypt,” said organizer Magda Adly, director of the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture. “When we tried to approach Talaat Harb Street the police surrounded us and threatened us, they told us ‘if you don’t leave we will arrest you, we will do what we have to with you people.’”
Activists, journalists and unwitting passersby were harassed and physically assaulted on Talaat Harb’s busy sidewalks during the afternoon rush hour. According to the Associated Press, eight activists and journalists were arrested but most were released after several hours in custody.
Two members of The Street is Ours, Nadia Mabrouk and Walid Salah, were detained overnight in Kasr El-Nil police station and have yet to be charged.
“They beat me up when I was taking pictures,” said Reuters photographer Abdel Nasser Nouri. Police assaulted him, smashing his cameras as he photographed Mabrouk and Salah being pulled into a police van. “They put me in a car and told me, ‘Don’t take any more pictures, and don’t come here again.’ Then they drove me away.”
He was released several blocks from Talaat Harb Street.
Several other activists and journalists were pursued through downtown by plainclothes officers, who pushed them into the Excelsior Café, next door to the cinema. Would-be demonstrators and journalists were physically assaulted on the sidewalk in front of the café, as plainclothes and uniformed security men fell upon them in groups of ten or more.
To the shock and confusion of café patrons, the restaurant was then surrounded by more than 40 plainclothes men working for state security. The men slammed closed the windows of the restaurant and blocked the exits. People who had been enjoying a quiet lunch quickly became part of a tense hour-long standoff. Trapped inside the café, they were made witnesses to the arrests and assaults taking place on the sidewalk outside.
“This is terrible!” said one female diner, who did not want to be named. She and her husband watched as plainclothes policemen violently shook a young veiled protestor. The girl was pull into a waiting van by her clothing, tripping and falling against its metal stairs. Policemen struck her several times as she lay on the stairs, and was then dragged farther into the transport.
“Look at what they are doing to the women,” said the female diner, “It’s awful, a man should never be violent to a woman like that!”
“Any women who came down Talaat Harb Street were prevented from walking there by the police and their thugs,” said Adly. “After we finally left the café, I saw two women going to work in their office in Talaat Harb Square, but plainclothes policemen prevented them from even walking down the street.”
The Street is Ours organized the rally to demand government accountability for the alleged attacks during Eid Al-Fitr, and to draw a parallel to similar attacks during an anti-government rally on May 25, 2005.
According to the group, the rally was meant to be the beginning of “a campaign defending our presence, our right to public space, our right to a life free of violence and sexual harassment.”
“Back in 2005, the police used criminals they released from the police stations to harass women activists and journalists. So the police have experience using these criminal and anti-social elements,” said Adly, as she sat barricaded inside the Excelsior. “In front of Metro, the police watched people behaving like criminals and they did not interfere to help anyone. When women came to the police and asked for help they said, ‘Many people are doing this, what do you expect us to do?’”
“The police are responsible for what happened in front of Metro,” she said, “just like they were responsible for what happened on May 25.”
By Liam Stack