TOPICS > World

In Egypt, Hundreds Hurt as Factions Clash in Cairo Streets

February 2, 2011 at 4:03 PM EDT


JEFFREY BROWN: Central Cairo dissolved into open street-warfare today. Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak fought protesters with bricks, firebombs and machetes. The violence lasted through the day and into the night. Officials reported three people killed and more than 600 injured, but a doctor on the scene said more than 1,500 people were hurt.

We begin our coverage with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Downtown Cairo has been battered by violence, warring factions fighting for control of Tahrir Square. Hundreds have been injured. Hundreds have fled in panic. Hundreds more are trapped by the fighting. And Egypt’s revolution hangs by a thread.

Many of those demanding the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak claim that plainclothes thugs were sent here to sow the seeds of bloodshed.

MAN (through translator): Hosni Mubarak is behind it. Mubarak should leave. Mubarak should leave.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This was the scene in a nearby mosque. Only last week, it was treating protesters shot by riot police. And eyewitnesses say a spear and baseball bats were among the weapons carried today by Mubarak supporters laying siege to the square.

The trouble began when dozens of men on horses and camels cantered into anti-government demonstrators.


JONATHAN RUGMAN: The army did not stop them, and the men were pulled from their mounts and attacked.

Earlier, we watched Mubarak supporters marching in their thousands towards Tahrir Square. The army let them through. And, if it was choreographed by the regime, nobody was saying.

“We hate ElBaradei,” they told us, referring to the opposition leader.

WOMAN: No Baradei. All Egyptians love Mubarak, love Mubarak. All Egyptians love Mubarak.

MAN: We love our president. Baradei is a liar. He’s a liar.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And they demanded that the protesters occupying the square leave it.

In the square itself, the anti-Mubarak crowd, still hanging an effigy of the president from a lamppost — “We won’t go until he goes,” they chanted, determined to hold their ground.

And ringing the square, small bands of young men, the front line against any attempt to recapture it, convinced that plainclothes police from the Interior Ministry were on their way.

Approaching another corner of the square, we found a coalition of opposition leaders. “Leave, leave,” they shouted, one of them telling me he feared Mubarak thugs would kill him and that this uprising was at a critical stage.

OSAMA AL-GHAZALI HARB, Democratic Front Party: This is time to rebuild Egypt. We have a revolution. It is not a demonstration. It is not a march. It is a revolution. You know it is.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: “Enough is enough,” an onlooker shouted. “We cannot live because we haven’t been paid” — anger between the two sides beginning to escalate.

These opposition leaders are marching towards Freedom Square to join the occupation. But just behind them are supporters of Hosni Mubarak, and there have been scuffles between the two sides, just the kind of chaos that people worry about in Egypt’s future.

At the entrance to the square itself, a pro-Mubarak crowd. “With our souls, we will defend you,” they shouted, denouncing anyone who dared enter.

RAY SUAREZ: Late tonight, state television in Cairo warned protesters to leave the central square.

We talked a short time ago with Matt Bradley of The Wall Street Journal from his hotel room overlooking Tahrir Square.

Matt, earlier today, the protesters were told to be out of Tahrir Square by midnight Cairo time. Has that happened? Is the square clear?

MATT BRADLEY, The Wall Street Journal: No. Actually, I just took a stroll through Tahrir Square, and there’s several thousand people still seated there, still camping out there, still gathering rocks to throw at protesters that are pro-government protesters that they expect to arrive any minute.

So, it seems that the — any illusions the government had or that the military had of enforcing a curfew are — are unrealistic. The people are there to stay.

RAY SUAREZ: So, just to be clear, there’s been no evidence that you’ve seen of any move by police or army to remove those protesters from this central plaza?

MATT BRADLEY: No move by the police or the army, but I’ve heard rumors that there are people mobilizing, Pro-Mubarak forces mobilizing at the northern part of the square, a little bit past the museum, to try to come in and take the square again.

But it looks like, for now, the anti-government protesters, the anti-Mubarak protesters, have held the day.

RAY SUAREZ: So much attention is being paid to Tahrir Square. What about the rest of Cairo? If you range three, five, 10 blocks away, what’s going on in the rest of the city?

MATT BRADLEY: Well, the rest of the city has now — I mean, the police have now essentially voided the city, so there isn’t much of a police presence anywhere, though the police have returned somewhat, though not nearly to the levels that they were at before.

So, really, during the violence last Friday, the — most of it was centered in Tahrir, the surrounding blocks around it and some isolated parts throughout the city. But now what we’re seeing is a lack of law enforcement throughout the city.

And I was driving through Cairo late last night. I was in the Sinai Peninsula, coming back. And there were groups of youth throughout the city who had roadblocks just about every three blocks. So, if you were to drive throughout downtown Cairo, you would be stopped just about every minute-and-a-half. And someone would ask you to pop your trunk. They would ask to see your identification. And these are just kids carrying handmade weapons, pieces of rebar, bats, machetes, that sort of thing, who have set up roadblocks.

So, really at night especially, the city is quite different. It’s very much on lockdown, but a citizen sort of army has taken over, a citizens’ law enforcement.

RAY SUAREZ: In your most recent move among the protesters, what do they say their intentions are? Are they going to stay?

MATT BRADLEY: Well, I didn’t really do a lot of chatting with the protesters. I just went to the hospital and went back.

But it sounds like, yes, from what I under — from what I understand from speaking to them earlier today, that they’re planning on sticking around. The protesters, at least the ones who are so hard-core that they’re actually going to be sleeping out in the cold tonight in Tahrir Square, they are resolved to remain in their positions until President Mubarak literally leaves office.

And they’re not having any of this wait until September or wait until the fall, when President Mubarak has declared that he will not be running again for president in the presidential elections.

RAY SUAREZ: Matt Bradley of The Wall Street Journal, thanks for joining us.

MATT BRADLEY: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: The violence in Cairo drew new warnings from around the world today. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the situation unacceptable. And British Prime Minister David Cameron said Egypt’s government must begin rapid and credible political change.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Mubarak government must rein in supporters.

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: The president and this administration strongly condemn the outrageous and deplorable violence that’s taking place on the streets of Cairo, that’s taking place on the streets of Cairo today. We have said that throughout this process. Obviously, if any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.

RAY SUAREZ: Today’s troubles extended beyond Cairo but on a much smaller scale.

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports from Egypt’s second-largest city.

LINDSEY HILSUM: We haven’t had the same level of violence here in Alexandria as in Cairo, but it is extremely tense.

Last night, after President Mubarak announced on television that he wouldn’t be standing down until September, some of the anti-government demonstrators got angry. There was stone-throwing, and there were some clashes in the night. Then the protesters dispersed, but then small groups reassembled today, some of them near the mosque which is just about where I am now.

And these different groups of protesters, some of them for the government, some of them against the government, were moving around town, and there were some scuffles. But, on the streets of Alexandria tonight, where I am, the crowds seem to have dispersed. I’m told that they have gone elsewhere. It’s calm, but it is extremely tense.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the ripple effects from the protests in Egypt and Tunisia continued across the Middle East today. The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, pledged not to run for a new term in 2013. But opposition figures said he broke a similar promise in 2006.