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.
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“The Egyptian security forces don’t do subtle – they just don’t know any other way except brute force,” says Rosemary Hollis, a Middle East specialist at the City University London. “If the army is coming in … to separate the demonstrators from the Mubarak regime, it means the regime and its security thugs can’t handle it.”Skip to next paragraph
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According to the Financial Times, an Egyptian police officer said Friday, "Whoever raises his head today, we will stamp on it with our feet.”
And yet Saturday, as protests by tens of thousands grew in strength, there was little evidence on the streets of the Egyptian police, and only modest deployments of army units, which were sometimes welcomed with flowers from the demonstrators.
Friday's day of rage
Many Egyptians ignored a curfew Friday as the continued street rage and volleys of tear gas gave way to darkness. Throughout the day, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and mobile phone service – critical social media tools used by protesters to mobilize. Those services were also shut down in Iran during the 2009 violence, greatly limiting the ability of Iranian protesters to organize.
Partial mobile phone service was restored in Egypt Saturday, but there was no indication that protesters would heed a new curfew ordered to begin at 4 p.m. State television warned that curfew breakers would be dealt with “severely,” but few Egyptians seemed to be listening.
“The Egyptians are at the beginning of their responses,” says Sir Richard. The Egyptian leader may try to consolidate his legitimacy – with different elements than in Iran – and project strength, and is more likely to accept concessions, he says. “Depending on the severity of the challenge [Mubarak] may pick up more from the Iranian playbook, but it looks less extreme for now.”
Still, a number of similar tactics were deployed. Plainclothes agents in Cairo Friday rode through the urban battlefields on motorcycles, reminiscent of Iranian riot police and pro-government vigilantes darting from one urban frontline to another in Tehran and other Iranian cities.
CNN reported rumors that criminals had been “released from prisons” in Egypt to be used by the regime as “shock troops” in the attempted crackdown. In Iran, numerous reports confirmed that drug dealers and other street thugs with criminal records were deployed in 2009 by the authorities in some detention centers to brutalize detainees.
Scenes in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez of protesters taking shields and batons away from riot police was reminiscent of 2009, when ordinary Iranians attacked riot police and sometimes paraded with their gear.
Will repression work in Egypt?
In Iran the repression worked and large public protests are no more, since determined riot police and religious basiji militiamen showed to protesters the high cost of continued action.
In Egypt, it's too early to tell whether the force being shown by Mubarak, a close US ally whose country has received billions in US military and financial aid since signing a peace deal with Israel in 1979, will have a similar result to Iran's heavy hand.
“Obviously the [Mubarak] regime has decided to crack down very hard on the protesters, but the protesters and the popular uprising [are] much more deeply entrenched,” Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera English.
“The most important point … is that the barrier of fear has collapsed, has fallen. Egyptians now are no longer terrified of the security apparatus as they used to be,” said Mr. Gerges. “The military is the key … remember in Tunisia what made the difference [was] the military basically made up its mind and told [former president] Ben Ali to pack and leave.”