Monday, November 23, 2009

Denials abound as riots engulf Egypt

Joseph Mayton - 20 November 2009

Salem Ebeid continued shaking his head, even after footage of the damage and destruction on Cairo’s streets were placed in front of him. He said nothing of the sort had happened and this was the media’s attempt to foment “things that aren’t real.” No more than ten paces from where his fruit stand stood were dozens of Egyptian riot police, lining a barrier in front of the Algerian Embassy in Cairo. Tension reached a tipping point on Thursday night and violence ensued.

“No way, there was nothing going on. It is just a precaution that there are soldiers here. They’ve been here since before the match,” Ebeid told Bikya Masr on Friday evening, as around a dozen streets in the upper-class Zamalek neighborhood remained shut down after crazed Egyptian fans attacked, set fire and bludgeoned in windows of shops surrounding the Algerian Embassy. It was a response, they said, to Egyptian fans being attacked in Algeria and Sudan after the two teams played on Wednesday for the final spot in the World Cup.

Algeria won, but by the response of Egyptians, it would seem otherwise. After many victories, Egyptians take to the streets, waving flags and cheering on their national team. This time, it was following a loss that has left the Egyptians outside next year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Near a major supermarket in the Zamalek enclave, a poster of what appeared to be an Algerian flag with anti-Algerian slogans painted across lay on the ground. “Run over the Algerians,” one man yelled at passing vehicles. “They don’t deserve our respect,” screamed another.

It was a sign of how far tensions between the Egyptians and the Algerians had gotten. Already, the Algerian Embassy had been firebombed and stones thrown at it. Violence between fans and police reached a tipping point in the early hours of Friday in clashes that left at least 11 police injured and fans forcibly turned away from the area.

But, it didn’t stop Egyptians from trying again on Friday afternoon, shortly after the noon prayers. Cars could be seen streaming down the road, flags blowing in the wind as the chants of “Egypt, Egypt” could be heard from the sidewalk. Journalists quickly made their way to the scene, hoping to capture the images and footage of the mob.

Scores of Egyptian youth converged again on the embassy, but police were ready, and willing, to stop them. Force was necessary. Reports of Egyptians being arrested surfaced on the social-networking Twitter website as locals began following the protests and demonstrations with interest.

“It is absolutely absurd,” said one Egyptian journalist, who watched the events unfolding with much disdain. “Egypt lost, who cares, now they are taking all the frustration out against their own people because they are angry at the government and the situation we all live in? It is horrible and disgusting that they would destroy shops and throw molotov cocktails at the police over a football match.”

Of course, the rioters, or demonstrators, depending on which side is speaking, the journalist was referring to Friday afternoons move from near the Algerian Embassy to downtown Cairo, where reports of molotov cocktails being thrown at police were reported. Bikya Masr could not confirm this specific incident from occurring, but a number of reports on Twitter argued they had in fact occurred.

Ironically, as tens of riot trucks lined the streets of Zamalek, blocks away from the Embassy, the glass windows of shops laying strewn across the sidewalk, police were quick to deny any incident had occurred.

“Bring me a newspaper with the photos of these demonstrations you are talking about,” one police General told Bikya Masr some 50 meters from the Algerian Embassy. “There was nothing going on, no violence, no demonstration. Where you get your information, I don’t know.”

It had been hours since the angry protesters had moved on from the area, leaving it cordoned off by hundreds, if not one thousand, police. The Embassy was now in recovery mode, and those with cameras were being moved away, often with force.

CNN’s Cairo bureau reported their video camera was taken by security in the early afternoon after they had allegedly captured footage of a woman being arrested.

Youtube videos remain circulating with footage of the past few days violent outbursts, in Sudan, in Algeria and now Egypt. The tension has turned into national pride and like Ahmed Saber said, “it is as if we care more about what others say than our own dignity.”