I’ve spoken with an activist in Mahalla, where it’s almost 2pm now. The city is under police occupation, but since last night it’s been quiet.
Try to imagine what the pictures you see of Palestinian towns under occupation… Mahalla is similar to that now. Soldiers, armored vehicles, firetrucks.. Since last night the clashes ended. But who knows, everything may change in a second. The morning shift went in by 7:30am. The production in the factory is still on as I’m talking to you now. We will see how things develop.
Families of detainees have assembled in front of the town’s police stations, trying to see them and bring them food, clothes.
There were unconfirmed reports that blogger Kareem el-Beheiri was detained by the police sometime at night, but Nora says that the reports were merely rumors.
In other news, The Egyptian Workers and Trade Unions Watch issued a report on the industrial action in February. Some stats from the report: 42,000 workers took part in either strikes, sit-ins or demonstrations during that month, while 54,000 workers threatened to do the same… The month also witnessed 22 sit-ins, 13 demonstrations and 10 strikes…
UPDATE: CLASHES started again at 4pm.
UPDATE: Blogger Ahmad Abdel Fattah called from Mahalla: “This govt wants to kill us and kill everyone here. The demonstrations are strong. Clashes are happening again with the police. I can hardly breath from the teargas. I’ll send you photos soon.”
UPDATE: I’ve spoken to a Socialist activist in Mahalla. He says around 4pm a 2000-strong demonstration started in El-Bahr Street in Mahalla. The protesters were chanting against the govt, price increases, police brutality. The troops cracked down on the demonstration, but that hardly made the demonstrators disperse.. Instead, over the course of an hour, the protest grew to something between 40 to 50,000, according to the activist. It’s passed 7pm now in Mahalla. There is not one demonstration, but several.. Most of the demonstrators’ chants are against the govt and calling for the release of those detained yesterday. The police renewed its crackdown, and arrests are being conducted now.
UPDATE: I received an email from activist Ahmad Droubi:
Sharkawy was harassed at 6th of October police station by maba7eth [Police]. He was hit but no injuries reported; except that he’s really pissed off! He is currently at the public prosecutor’s in 6th of October awaiting a decision; he was not questioned again today. Apparently all male detainees were hit overnight.
UPDATE: Listen to the chants of the protesters in Mahalla: “Hey Gamal [Mubarak]! Tell your dad, Mahalla will fuck him…” while in this video, the Mahalla citizens are chanting: “Hosni [Mubarak]! Fuck you!”
UPDATE: I received the following statement from the Center for Socialist Studies:
In light of recent events in Egypt yesterday April 6, 2008, the Center for Socialist Studies calls on supporters of freedom and justice everywhere in the world to show there support for victims of repression in Egypt. Mount pressure on the Egyptian dictatorship to release more than 800 detained yesterday including; more than 150 political activists (socialists, liberals, and Islamists), more than 600 protesters from Mahalla (mainly women and children) and Mahalah strike Committee leaders Kamal El-Faioumy and Tarek Amin- who are facing serious allegations of agitation which can lead to long prison sentences.
On the background of a call for strike on April 6th in Mahalla textile complex by the workers, political forces decided to support the strike through parallel symbolic work stoppage and peaceful protests. However, the Mubarak regime in retaliation decided to occupy El-Mahalla complex with security forces, abduct strike committee leaders Kamal El-Faioumy and Tarek Amin, arrest political activists of every political tendency in Cairo and other cities. Not able to suppress the protests, the Mubarak security forces used rubber-bullets, tear-gas, and live ammunition against Mahalla people who decided to protest on the streets of the city and in different villages, leaving at least two dead and hundreds injured.
As fighters in this struggle, the Center for Socialist Studies, calls on all activists and supporters of freedom and justice everywhere in the world to support us in our fight. The inspirational fight of the Egyptian working class over the past 18 months, which culminated in El-Mahllah events and the mass protests of yesterday –and the terrified reactions of the Mubarak regime- have proved our faith in the centrality of the working class to liberate Egypt from dictatorship and exploitation.
We call upon you circulate the news about the maximum repression and violence of the Mubarak regime, which left at least two killed in Mahalla, including a 9-year old boy. We call upon you to organize rallies and protests in front of the Egyptian embassy where you live and to send protest messages and letters against the Mubarak regime.
Long live the struggle of the working class!
UPDATE: The confirmed deaths in Mahalla go up to 4 martyrs till now. The police continued for the second day cracking down on protesters, who used molotov cocktails and rocks, in scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian intifada… Tadamon reports that the mass demonstrations today was targeting Mahalla’s Police Station where many of the detainees are locked up. Tadamon puts the number of demonstrators at 20,000. However two Socialist activists who took part in the protests insist the numbers were higher and go up to 40 or 50,000.
Here’s also a report from the Daily News Egypt by Sarah Carr:
Public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud announced Monday that 157 people involved in the demonstrations which erupted in Mahalla on Sunday have been charged with a range of offenses including riotous assembly and criminal damage.
Violence again erupted in the town on Monday. Protests began in the afternoon at around 4 pm, in a repeat of yesterday’s events when thousands of Mahalla residents and workers in the Ghazl El-Mahalla textile factory took to the streets following the afternoon shift.
Protesters are angry about the collapse of a strike in the Ghazl El-Mahalla factory, planned for Sunday but which was aborted after intimidation by security bodies and internal divisions between workers.
During yesterday’s demonstrations violent clashes occurred between members of security bodies and protesters. According to Mahmoud, the clashes resulted in the injury of 35 demonstrators, 26 policemen and three senior officers.
The public prosecutor denied rumors that fatalities occurred during yesterday’s demonstrations.
Activist websites had published reports that two people had been killed when security bodies used teargas and live ammunition to contain the demonstration.
Mahmoud also said that eleven shops and two schools were damaged during yesterday’s protests.
An eyewitness who was in Mahalla on Monday told Daily News Egypt that the situation remains extremely tense.
“Relatives of people who have been arrested started a procession from the public prosecution office in Mahalla to the Shona Square,” said Ahmad Ghazi, a lawyer with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
“Young men ripped down a poster of [President] Mubarak in the square and set it alight,” he continued.
“Security bodies are using teargas and firing ammunition at the crowd and both protesters and members of security bodies have been injured,” Ghazi said.
Photographer and friend Nasser Nouri was in Mahalla on Sunday, and was shot in the leg by a rubber bullet. Despite being in so much pain, Nasser continued reporting on Monday, limping his way around the rough streets in Mahalla, taking shots of the riots as well as the police violence. Below are a couple of the photos he took today of the Mahalla heroes smashing Mubarak’s posters.
UPDATE: Prosecutor ordered the detention of blogger Muhammad el-Sharqawi and Kefaya’s Muhammad el-Ashqar for 15 days pending investigation.
Meanwhile, the Textile Workers’ League activists Kamal el-Fayoumi and Tarek el-Senoussi are locked up in the notorious State Security local office in Mahalla, while reports are conflicting whether Ghazl el-Mahalla blogger Kareem el-Beheiri was detained or did he “disappear.” A solidarity committee has been set up to support the detainees. WE NEED DONATIONS FOR THE DETAINEES in Cairo, Mahalla and the other provinces. If you are in Cairo, just go to the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (1 Souq el-Tawfiqiya St) and see how you can help.
UPDATE: The 6th of April Strike Blog reports with photos on a spontaneous protest in front of Cairo’s Abdeen Court, and receives health complaints from Mahalla over the pigs’ showering the city with teargas bombs.
UPDATE: More photos of Day 2 of the Mahalla riots, taken by James Buck…
“You can feel there were support for the demonstrators among the citizens,” James told me over the phone. “Whenever police attacked the crowds, you always found residents opening up their homes for those who are trying to escape.”
UPDATE: A report by labor journalist Jano Charbel on the second day of rioting in Mahalla:
A popular uprising has been taking place in Al Mahalla Al Kobra since April 6. Local residents, in the tens of thousands, took to the streets of this Nile Delta city in protest against price hikes, and in protest against the detention of more than 300 locals. With stone-throwing youth and Central Security Forces engaged in running street battles Al Mahalla has come to resemble the occupied Palestinian territories; and the protests in this city have come to resemble an intifada. Over 100 civilians and members of the security forces have been injured in clashes, and at least one civilian (a 15 year old boy) has been killed.
Hundreds of CSF trucks have been deployed around the city and hundreds more within it. Upon approaching the outskirts of Al Mahalla on the night of April 7 one could clearly notice that the security forces were facing stiff resistance on the streets – because tens of these CSF trucks, which were stationed around the city, had their windshields smashed-in (despite the protective metal grids covering them.) Tear gas stings the eyes and irritates the respiratory system upon entering the city itself.
In the neighborhood of Sekket Tanta black clad riot police were firing tear gas canisters at just about anybody on the streets – including women, children, and the elderly; other troops opened fire on protesters using shotgun shells filled with rubber-coated pellets. Yet CSF troops could not disperse the youth protesters on the streets of this neighborhood. Male teenagers, along with (a significant number of unemployed) youths in their early twenties were at the forefront of these clashes with the CSF. Youth rained stones down upon the security forces and hurled Molotov cocktails at them. Clashes in this neighborhood had subsided only after 11pm.
These youths chanted very expressive slogans against Hosni Mubarak, the government, and the interior ministry. Other protesters had destroyed photos and portraits of the Egyptian president that were found on the streets.
Every single resident of Al Mahalla, with whom I spoke, confirmed that the non-violent demonstrations against price increases on April 6 had turned violent only after security forces moved to forcefully disperse demonstrators. Thus a peaceful demonstration quickly turned into a violent expression of popular discontent. Public properties and private enterprises have been the targets of attacks – a microbus was set ablaze, while three schools were torched, and two branches of the local ful & falafel franchise Al-Baghl were partially destroyed. It could’ve been local youth protesters who were behind these acts, or it could very well be the doing of destructive elements deployed by the interior ministry – in order to serve as a pretext for further crackdowns, and/or to tarnish the image of the protesters.
One youth protester said “I don’t know who set fire to the three schools, or why they did so? But I think I understand the motives behind the burning of the microbus and the attack on the Al-Baghl Restaurants. The microbus was a state-owned vehicle, and thus a natural target for attack. As for Al-Baghl, I believe the restaurants were attacked due to popular discontent with rising food prices – only five years ago a ful or falafel sandwich at Al-Baghl cost 35 piasters, it now costs 65 piasters per sandwich.”
Another youth protester on the street asked a member of the riot police “when’s the last time you had a bite to eat? The officers aren’t feeding you poor folks are they?” Looking exhausted and being unable to leave his spot, he quietly replied “we haven’t had anything to eat in nearly 24 hours.”
Some photos taken by Jano:
UPDATE: It’s confirmed Kareem el-Beheiri is in police custody. He was spotted at the Tanta Prosecutor’s office where he’s undergoing interrogation. Below is a portrait I took of Kareem last January.
UPDATE: Blogger Ahmad Abdel Fattah sent me some photos
and video clips from Mahalla:
And here’s an AP report by Paul Schemm:
Police fired tear gas and beat protesters Monday, and demonstrators angry over rising prices and low wages tore down a billboard of Egypt’s president in a second day of violence in a northern Egyptian city.
The clahes began when several hundred young men massed in the main square of the Nile Delta city of Mahalla al-Kobra. They threw rocks at a large advertising billboard of President Hosni Mubarak in the center of the square, then slashed the picture with knives, then toppled the billboard.
Riot police then charged the group, firing heavy volleys of tear gas. Police pulled some of the men to the pavement and beat them with batons or fists. In the melee, other protesters threw stones at police or grabbed canisters of tear gas and threw them back at the police.
At least 25 people were arrested, and 15 protesters and five policemen were hurt in the violence, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
The clashes followed similar rioting Sunday, when thousands of demonstrators torched buildings, looted shops and hurled bricks at the police in this gritty industrial town. Sunday’s violence erupted after textile factory workers called off a strike planned for the morning to protest low wages.