Walls Prove No Barrier to Street Fighting in Cairo
e construction of three new walls of heavy cement blocks surrounding Egypt’s Interior Ministry on Sunday failed to stop a fourth night of clashes between security forces and protesters demanding an end to military rule.
The scene was a replay of the previous night. Thousands of protesters alternately scurried and swarmed through the streets, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at rows of riot police. Giving chase, police filled the streets with clouds of tear gas, and under the white smoke pelted demonstrators with rubber bullets and birdshot.
But the continuation of violence that began after the failure of the police to prevent a deadly riot at a soccer game Wednesday night raised new questions about the ability of Egypt’s military-led government to resolve anger in the streets.
Previous outbreaks of street fighting, in November and December, were ultimately halted after the military erected concrete barriers bisecting streets leading from the symbolic center of the protests, Tahrir Square, to their most despised target, the Interior Ministry.
Before dawn on Sunday morning, the military erected three more, bringing the total number of walls to eight, including one that was partly toppled in protests this week. Along with the tableau of burned out buildings and cars, rubble strewn streets, and a thick dust of settled tear gas, the maze of barriers has completed the picture of a virtual war zone in the heart of the capital.
“It is a beautiful illustration of the poverty of political imagination in Egypt,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “This is policy making? Building walls?”
The identity and demands of the protesters continuing to battle the police were also unclear. At the forefront of the violence were die-hard soccer fans, known as ultras, who are convinced that the police bore responsibility for the soccer riot that killed more than 70 fans Wednesday night.