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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.

By Staff writer / January 29, 2011

Protesters shout anti-goverment slogans during a demonstration in Cairo, Saturday. Thousands of angry Egyptians rallied in central Cairo to demand that President Hosni Mubarak resign and call on troops to come over to their side despite Mubarak's use of tactics reminiscent of Iran's in 2009.

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

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Egyptians say their growing protest against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak was sparked by the Tunisia uprising that toppled another veteran authoritarian leader two weeks ago.

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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

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