Egypt's crackdown on protesters evokes Iran's heavy hand in 2009 unrest
With more than 100 estimated dead so far as Egyptian protests resume for a fifth day, Egypt's 'zero tolerance' policy is reminiscent of Iran's force to quash unrest after Ahmadinejad's reelection.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But while ordinary Egyptians have been inspired by the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the forceful response of Mr. Mubarak’s regime more resembles how Iran successfully – if mercilessly – dealt with widespread protests in 2009 after the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Anyone who followed Iran's violent crackdown then may feel a twinge of déjà vu as they watch rows of Egyptian riot police and plainclothes security agents battle Egyptians with batons, tear gas, and water cannons in their bid to halt five days of unprecedented protest.
By midday Saturday, as protesters returned to the street again to push for an end to Mr. Mubarak’s rule, the nationwide death toll from the protest was high and rising. Correspondents for Al Jazeera English visited hospitals in several cities and counted 108 dead, with a Western human rights monitor confirming that some were killed by live ammunition; earlier Reuters put the death toll at 74.
At least eight more were killed by live fire near a Cairo prison, Al Jazeera reported Saturday afternoon. Witnesses said Saturday that “live ammunition” was being used to quell unrest, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera. Violence overnight Friday left a number of police stations and government buildings torched.
On the face of it, the outpouring of anger across Egypt and the government's declared "zero tolerance" policy look similar to the Iranian street fight in mid-2009. The Islamic Republic used every tool to quell weeks of unrest, which senior Revolutionary Guard commanders said later had brought the regime to the “edge” of collapse.
But while many dozen have so far been killed in Egypt and more than 1,000 injured, the violence in Iran was marked by its brutality. Scores, if not hundreds, were killed in Iran, 4,000 were arrested in the first stage, and detainees were raped and tortured.
Differences with Iran crackdown
“The Iranians created real fear through using extreme force in streets and detention centers – they much preferred personal combat to water cannon and tear gas,” says Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Tehran now at the Chatham House think tank.
The Iranians “made no concessions – to project strength," notes Sir Richard. Just after midnight Friday, as his ruling party's headquarters burned in Cairo, Mubarak ended four days of silence by giving some concessions: He promised to sack the government, but gave no indication that he was responsible for Egypt’s problems – or would step aside.
The Iranian leadership couched its street fight in very different terms. They “created an ideological wall around the protests using religion, false accusations, the ‘foreign enemies,’ [and] claims of sedition,” says Sir Richard.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, opposition figure, and former chief of the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog agency, returned to Egypt Thursday, warning Mubarak that a “barrier of fear” had been broken. Mr. ElBaradei was put under house arrest Friday but planned to join protests on Saturday.