"There are so many rocks, it looks like rain"

Report and video footage of the Egyptian army's violence against protesters in Cairo.

The fighting between protesters, the Egyptian army (SCAF) and now the Central Security Forces on Egypt's Tahrir Square has entered its fourth day with very bloody scenes taking place on the midan over night. This morning, both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have separately made statements condemning the Egyptian authorities for their "excessive use of force", and calling for security forces to respect human rights.

The fierce battles mark an escalation in violence by the military regime against the people despite this morning's televised press conference, where the SCAF claimed there was no evidence of use of force against the protesters, and Saturday's statement from the SCAF-appointed Prime Minister, Kamel Ganzouri, who said they would not violently respond to demonstrations.

Facing increasing pressure from the protesters who are pushing for the removal of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces from power and a swift transition to a civilian government, the army have continued to resort to forcibly quelling protests. Against the background of elections, which the protesters feel will only produce a puppet parliament, the SCAF, who have publicly painted themselves as a peace-keeping force, appear even more determined.

At approximately 4am this morning, the Central Security Forces together with the army stormed the square using long-range tear gas canisters, shotguns and, as video footage proves, automatic weapons.


(Video courtesy of Mosireen)

"They attacked us with an incredible amount of force", says Sherif, 27, who was on Tahrir as they attacked. "We saw shotguns, possibly live ammunition. Regardless of the level of violence used, people stood their ground and are still staying put."

Two protesters were killed in the clearing of the square this morning. Mohammad Mohie Hussein, 30, who was detained with 200 others during the last four days of fighting on Qasr Al Aini Street, died from his injuries whilst in custody last night. Over 13 protesters have been killed in total since the fighting began and hundreds have been injured.

Four soldiers were captured on the square by protesters overnight. Protesters formed human cordons around the officers protecting them from angry crowds as they rushed them off Tahrir in cars and buses. One badly beaten soldier was treated by protesters in a field hospital.

The army built a third wall on Sheikh Rihan street last night, which is parallel to the street in front of the cabinet where the protesters' original sit-in had been. Yesterday afternoon they built a concrete wall blocking off Qasr Al Aini street which leads to Tahrir.

Clashes were sparked by the cabinet sit-in on early Friday morning after the army had arrested, beaten and electrocuted a young activist, Aboudi Ibrahim.

After clearing the sit-in, soldiers were seen hurling slabs of concrete paving, molotov cocktails, rocks and even a filing cabinet from the surrounding buildings onto the protesters causing severe head injuries. A field hospital by the Omar Makram mosque reported 11 head injuries in 15 minutes. At one point, two soldiers urinated on the crowds; others later performed obscene dances.

"I was on the frontline by the wall yesterday," says one young protester, who was unable to reveal his identity as he is on an army Wanted list and so currently in hiding. "It is so dark, as they switch the streets light off none of us could see the rocks. I was hit in the forehead and blood soaked my keffiyeh. I had to have nine stitches at the field hospital."

"There are so many rocks, it looks like rain. We set up a spotlight at one point so we could get out of the way of them," adds Omar, 24, also a protester who received gunshot wounds during the 120+ hour clashes three weeks ago.

Since Friday, there have been cases of extreme army brutality, particularly during the clearing of the streets and squares, with frequent instances of large groups of officers and plain-clothed police setting upon one protester at a time. I witnessed members of the military beating up paramedics by the field hospitals, older protesters who couldn't run as fastm, and bystanders. They burnt all the tents left on Tahrir square.

On Saturday afternoon the army charged protesters across Qasr Al Nile Bridge towards the neighbouring residential area of Zamalek and began pulling people out of cars.

Video and photographs of members of the armed forces stripping and beating a veiled female protester (see photo above) sparked national and international outrage. In the square, male protesters stopped cars to show them a newspaper with the image printed on it.

The attacks on women have rallied much needed public support for the protesters, as it is particularly shocking behaviour for the relatively conservative and predominantly Islamic Egyptian society.

"The army are treating men and women the same, they are not paying attention to the fact that we're are often physically weaker than an officer," explains Riham, 25, a doctor, who narrowly missed a beating herself. "It's not about men and women, whoever they face they beat up," adds female presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel, who is frequently on the square. "The problem is the army give orders to the soldiers to watch Pharaohs, a fulool [old regime] channel. They are brainwashed."

Mona Seif, sister of detained blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, described being arrested: "They attacked the kiosk where I was hiding... they were kicking me with their boots and hitting me with their sticks. The default is for them to hit even if there isn't a clear order." She described them ripping off a woman's niqab and beating a woman until her head bled. Her sister, Sanaa, who was also detained and badly beaten, heard people being tortured.

It is clear the military do not want these actions to be publicised. Yesterday they began entering flats overlooking Tahrir and confiscating cameras and throwing media equipment off balconies.

The army first attacked the protesters four days ago, as election votes were still being counted. Tonight the results from the 2nd round of Egypt's supposedly free and open elections are due to be announced. The fighting shows no sign of stopping.

"The army are playing with us," says 21-year-old Mahmoud, a filmmaker, who was also injured in the clashes. "The SCAF want the military regime to continue. But the protesters will not stop until we take those first steps into a civilian ruled country."

Bel Trew is based in Cairo. Follow her on Twitter @beltrew

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide