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In Egypt, a violent campaign to subvert the revolution

The Army joined with armed thugs yesterday to force protesters out of Cairo's Tahrir Square – one of many incidents lately that make Egyptians blame regime elements for trying to limit the scope of the revolution.

By Correspondent / March 10, 2011

Egyptian soldiers use barriers to block a street leading to Cairo's security headquarters where some relatives, unseen, of a prisoner who got arrested recently for involvement in a shooting, protest as they call for his release in downtown Cairo, Thursday, March 10. The country's new cabinet sought to reassure Egyptians on Wednesday night, ordering police to immediately take back the streets after clashes this week between Muslims and Christians.

Grace Kassab/AP

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Cairo

Egyptians are growing increasingly wary of what they see as a growing attempt by remnants of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime to subvert their revolution by sowing chaos and violence in society.

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They call it a counterrevolution, and they see it in attacks by thugs on peaceful protesters and in neighborhoods throughout Cairo and even in the sectarian strife that has recently flared up between Christians and Muslims. Egypt’s new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, in an interview on Egyptian television Wednesday night, warned of a systematic campaign to undermine security in Egypt.

They blame it on members of the state security service, wealthy businessmen, and members of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, who do not want to see the revolution that robbed them of power succeed. It evokes the violence that came after Tunisia's revolution, where young men were said to be paid to attack people and property.

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But even as citizens accuse those connected with the former president of subverting the revolution, the very institution in charge of transitioning to a more democratic Egypt – the Army – has been acting quite unrevolutionary itself. Replicating Mubarak-era policies, the Army has severely beaten protesters on at least two occasions in the past week, and since Jan. 28 has been trying civilian protesters in military courts, denying them basic rights.

During February, thousands of civilian protesters were arrested, denied civilian lawyers or even the chance to telephone their families, given trials as short as five minutes, and sentenced to prison, says Adel Ramadan, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The convictions, often coming only three days after arrest, range from six months to 15 years and cannot be appealed.

“From a human rights perspective, we see the submission of civilians to a military justice system as one of the most problematic things to emerge in this period of time,” says Priyanka Motaparthy of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Cairo. “These are civilian protesters, they're being interrogated in the presence of military lawyers that the military prosecution has appointed. They're not being given access to civilian lawyers.… Once they've been sentenced, there's no appeals process.”

Thugs out in force again

One of the hallmarks of the security apparatus during the Mubarak era was its use of plainclothes thugs against protesters. Such attackers were unleashed upon peaceful demonstrators during the revolution on Feb. 2, in what was one of the bloodiest days of fighting.

Aggressive men armed with sticks have been making regular appearances lately, as well. Tuesday night and Wednesday around noon, groups of armed men set upon the hundreds of protesters still camped in the center of Tahrir Square, throwing rocks at them. They also attacked a protest in front of a downtown state security building Sunday, and have been reported in other neighborhoods. Because of the nature of the situation, it's difficult to ascertain exactly who they are.

But Emad Gad, an analyst at the state-funded Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says state security officers are working with corrupt businessmen and members of the NDP to sow chaos by sending thugs out to attack civilians. He said the same elements were also trying to sow religious strife.

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