Energized by Tunisia, Egypt protesters surge onto streets in 'Day of Wrath'
Democracy protesters in Egypt took to the streets in Cairo and at least six other cities, calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
In central Cairo, thousands of people – young and old, rich and poor -- converged on Tahrir (Liberation) Square with a confidence unleashed by the popular uprising that forced Tunisia’s president of 23 years to flee to Saudi Arabia earlier this month. When police shot tear gas into the crowd, youths ripped up the sidewalks and hurled pieces of cement at police, turning the square into a battle zone. Several times when the police tried to advance, the crowd surged forward and forced them to retreat.
“This is the result of the pressure that has built up inside us from the corruption, from the repression, from the lack of freedom,” shouted student Abdallah Al Fakharany as protesters rushed by him, fleeing clouds of tear gas and police batons. “Look – our government is fighting their own people. Those who are supposed to protect us fight us instead, because we want democracy in Egypt.”
The protest, called a National Day of Wrath and held on Egypt’s national Police Day, started to gather steam on Facebook before Tunisia’s uprising had turned into a revolution. But the toppling of an Arab autocrat through the power of a grassroots revolt broke a psychological barrier for many Egyptians, making them believe the same is possible in their nation and leading thousands to participate. That newfound energy will be troubling for Mubarak, a stalwart United States who receives about $1.5 billion in American aid each year.
Political analyst Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid said Tuesday’s protests were unmatched in Egypt since the bread riots of 1977. The fact that the protests took place across the nation, and were not led by a particular political movement or opposition party, set them apart from demonstrations in the last decade, he says.
“This time it is really a national movement,” he says. “It’s quite remarkable that the slogans raised by the demonstrators were not typical of any political party. They were general slogans about democracy, ending the state of emergency, and lowering prices. This is the beginning of a process.… The government will not respond favorably so I think the continuation of the protests is almost certain.”
After darkness fell in Cairo, thousands of protesters remained in the square and pledged to camp out until their demands are met. The regime's next move is uncertain.