Conflict & Justice

Fresh Clashes At Cairo's Tahrir Square

Clashes erupt again in Cairo after a weekend of violence, with reports of more than 20 people killed and hundreds wounded in protests at military rule. Matthew Bell reports from Cairo on Monday's broadcast.

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One week before the Egyptian elections are set to begin, deadly clashes between demonstrators and security forces have broken out in Cairo and other cities. The death toll in the Egyptian capital on Monday was at least 23 people.

Protestors re-occupied Tahrir Square in the heart of downtown, angry about what they see as intransigence on the part of Egypt's military rulers.

Violent scenes from the square and surrounding areas over the past three days are giving many Egyptians a feeling of deja vu. The smell of tear gas is in the air. People have been injured by the hundreds. Scenese of riot police battling crowds of rock-throwing young men fill TVs and newspapers.

These are all reminders that the Egyptian revolution has reached a critical moment.

In the middle of it all is a group of young citizen journalists calling themselves Mosireen. The name is a play on the Arabic word for Egypt. And it means determined. Mosireen is made up of a group of film makers and activists, working out of an office in downtown Cairo. They aren't getting much sleep these days. 27 year-old Omar Hamilton is a British-born Egyptian. He sits in front of an iMac editing some video.

"This is kind of a quick chronicle of what happened yesterday," Hamilton said, wearing a black and white kaffiyeh around his neck. "I was out filming from two in the afternoon to seven in the morning."

"I want to put together a very quick 7-8 minute video, kind of showing what happened."

Hamilton and his colleagues are unapologetic supporters of the Egyptian revolution and they use cameras to try to make an impact on events. He says the role of the civilian journalist has been hugely important since the start of the uprising in January.

"There's a huge propaganda war being fought. Most of the country only watch state television and state television are pouring out sort of merciless lies."

"We know that this isn't going to be on the news," Hamilton said of his latest video. "But we know also that if we get something good and true on the Internet and it's out quickly, then a lot of people watch it and a lot of people talk about it and it does actually influence the way the debate is framed."

That debate could not be more important right now for the future of Egypt. Elections are scheduled to start a week from today. But the re-occupation of Tahrir Square and the ongoing violence in Cairo and other cities is putting everything into question. And that has a lot of Egyptians worried.

If there's a message that many people around the country — especially those in Tahrir Square — seem to agree on, it's that Egypt's military leadership is dragging its feet.

Speaking from the square on Sunday night, Ghada Mohamed Naguib says, "we have one demand, handing over power to a civilian government."

"We want presidential elections by next April and the military council doesn't want to hold those elections till 2013."

Naguib goes on to say she was surprised to see the Egyptian army beating people in the square.

"We used to say the people and the army are one hand. But it turns out that's not the case."

Egyptian general, Saeed Abbas told reporters on Monday that the troops' mission was to protect the Interior Ministry building near Tahrir Square from demonstrators.

"The armed forces were dispatched following a request from the interior minister," Abbas said.

"It was approved by the head of the Military Supreme Council to assist the security forces in protecting the Ministry of Interior, nothing else. They did not come to disperse protesters, or to remove them from Tahrir Square. They didn't leave the vicinity of the Interior Ministry."

The idea that the people and army were ever united as one is laughable to Khalid Abdullah. Back at the office of Mosireen, he says this is a key moment. Demonstrators in the square are not going to be intimidated, Abdullah says, and neither are he and his fellow activists.

"Within our close circle of friends are people who are prison, are people who've been tortured, are people who have lost their eyes," he says. "What they never seem to get is the fact that that is what keeps us going. It's not what stops us."

A few minutes later, someone in the office gets word soldiers are moving into Tahrir Square.

"The army are down," Abdullah asks?

Everyone then grabs their jackets and their camera bags. And they head back out to the square.

  • tahrir300.jpg

    Tahrir Square, Cairo (BBC Video)

  • Mosireen.jpg

    Khaled Abdullah edits some fresh video from Tahrir Square showing violent clashes between demontrators and Egyptian riot police.

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