By Marwa Al-A’asar
CAIRO: Military police on Sunday forcefully dispersed a sit-in by thousands of Suez protesters blocking the Suez-Ain Sokhna desert road, reportedly detaining a number of them, Suez Revolution Coalition member Ahmed Abdel-Gawad said.
“The forces first fired in the air then clashed with protesters using electric shock prods when the protesters attempted to set up tents on the road,” Abdel-Gawad told Daily News Egypt.
There were conflicting reports as to the exact number of those detained and whether they were released. Some sources said 10 detainees are still in the custody of the military police, while others said that the 25 who were arrested were released less than two hours later.
Once the Suez residents heard the news about the clashes, many reportedly rushed to join others near the Suez Canal authority office in Port Tawfik, where a symbolic sit-in was held earlier.
At about 6 am, a few dozen protesters blocked the main road that connects Suez to the Red Sea province where several factories are located.
Workers and employees failed to reach their workplaces, while others joined the protesters whose numbers swelled to thousands by noon. About 300 cars were backed up on the road because of the blockage.
Popular committees were formed to screen those who wish to enter the city, allowing only trucks carrying food supplies, revolutionaries and reporters to pass through.
The protesters called for the arrest of the seven police officers released on Monday on bail.
The officers were being tried on charges of killing and injuring peaceful protesters during the first days of the Jan. 25 uprising. Seven others are being tried in absentia.
The demonstrators also demanded opening an investigation into complaints filed before the Suez attorney general regarding other policemen involved in similar incidents.
“We moreover call for cleansing the judiciary, sacking the prosecutor general and the Suez attorney general and holding military trials for the policemen charged with killing and injuring protesters,” activist Abdel-Aziz Kamel told Daily News Egypt.
The protesters threatened to storm the Suez Canal building in the city and that of the local municipality if their demands are not met within 24 hours.
Army forces cordoned off the area surrounding the canal in a bid to protect it from possible sabotage attempts.
Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It separates the African continent from Asia, providing the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans.
Head of Suez Canal Traffic Department Ahmed El-Manakhly said in a telephone interview with state TV that the navigation in the canal was not influenced by the protests and sit-ins in the city.
El-Manakhly added that the armed forces secured all the entrances of the canal, saying that any moves to threaten navigation would jeopardize Egypt’s national security.
Army trucks and tanks were seen in and around the city, especially in Port Tawfik. There has been no police presence since Monday.
On that day, the Suez criminal court had released on bail the seven police officers accused of using live ammunition against peaceful protesters, including the former police directorate chief and his deputy.
The trial was adjourned till September.
“The SCAF must remember that Suez residents have a history of resistance during the war with Israel…and that the martyrs’ blood is sacred,” Abdel-Gawad said. “Beware of the rage of the Suez.”
Angry protests flared up across the city in reaction to the releases, while thousands began an open sit-in in the main El-Arbaein Square, declaring a state of civil disobedience.
“We won’t leave until the released officers are back behind bars,” activist Abdel-Aziz Kamel told DNE.
The demonstrators further denounced Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s televised speech Saturday evening, describing it as a “band aid.”
Hundreds were still holding a sit-in in El-Arbaein, dubbed by citizens the Martyrs Square, while dozens others held a hunger strike outside the local municipality building.
Protesters all over Suez called on both Sharaf and Interior Minister Mansour El-Essawy to resign.
In his speech, Sharaf announced that all policemen accused of using live ammunition against demonstrators will be sacked, an announcement that fell on disbelieving ears.
“We’re not going to be fooled again,” Kamel said.
“Sharaf does not have the authority to terminate the service of a policeman. He can only suspend him,” Abdel-Gawad argued, adding that rumors have been circulating that the seven officers charged with killing protesters have disappeared from the city and are preparing to flee the country.
Other protesters accused the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of violating the rights of the revolution’s victims and their families, and called for overthrowing the head of SCAF Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy.
SCAF has been running the country since former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on Feb. 11 following an 18-day nationwide popular revolt that demanded his ouster.
“We have addressed the SCAF and we are waiting for their reply before taking any escalation measures,” Abdel-Gawad said.
“On top of our demands is that Mubarak be transferred to Tora prison. Meeting these requests will be the SCAF’s only way to calm the people down,” he added.
Mubarak has been detained inside Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital since April. He is scheduled to stand trial in August over corruption-related charges and the premeditated murder of peaceful protesters and the injury of others.
Political forces, however, have always questioned the medical condition of Mubarak, arguing that he is well enough to be admitted to Tora prison hospital.
Suez witnessed intense clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the early days of the January 25 uprising. Official reports said 29 were killed and 1,000 others wounded during the clashes.
The first revolution martyr was shot dead in El-Arbaein on the night of Jan. 25.