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EGYPT: A protest with low turnout

April 6, 2009 | 12:59 pm

Protest

Despite a call for a national strike, Cairo's streets Monday were as busy as they usually are on weekdays, with workers heading to their jobs and offices and students heading to their universities. Yet dozens of riot police cars were stationed in downtown Cairo, reflecting a high sense of alert on the part of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Barely one hundred demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo, heeding opposition calls to make April 6 “a day of anger” nationwide in protest of poor economic conditions and political stagnation.

“I am not disappointed or desperate; the pursuit of the struggle will bear fruit one day. Change does not happen overnight, it requires accumulative work,” George Ishak, a leader of the Kefaya protest movement  told the Los Angeles Times on the sidelines of the demonstration.

The emerging April 6 youth group, naming itself after last year’s strike by textile workers in the Nile Delta, were the first to call for a national strikein protest of a vast array of political, social and economic maladies. In a statement circulated online, the group made several demands, including a minimum monthly wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds (about $215), political reforms to put an end to Mubarak’s mandate and the halt of gas exports to Israel.

Today, the group organized a number of protests on Egyptian campuses, which authorities sought to thwart by arresting activists and holding concerts and sports contests to distract students. 

A police source told Agence France Press that they were ordered to arrest anyone taking part in demonstrations and to deploy forces in sensitive spots around the country. Police had been reportedly deployed in the delta town of Mahalla, where labor protests culminated in riots last year.

Cordoned by riot and plainclothes police, protesters chanted anti-Mubarak slogans in front of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate building in Cairo. They seized the opportunity to reiterate their vehement opposition to the looming possibility that Gamal Mubarak will succeed his father, shouting:  “Gamal, forget about hereditary succession, and go ask your father to be more sensitive.”

“We want fair salaries that can be enough for a full month,” shouted protesters.

About 50 students and Muslim Brotherhood activists were arrested, according to the April 6 group. Eight people were injured as clashes erupted between opposition students and their pro-government classmates during a protest at Ain Shams Univeristy.

Many observers blame Egyptian apathy on more than five decades of military rule and political oppression.

“People cannot find a good leadership to follow. The state has destroyed all institutions, including active political parties,” said Diaa El-Sawy, a leader of the April 6 youth group. “We, as April 6 youth, try to advance a new leadership for the people.”

Despite the low turnout of protesters, El-Sawy said he believed his group’s call chalked up some success. “The arrest of students reflects our success in terrifying the state. April 6 strike is just a step on the way to a general civil disobedience which we believe is the only way to bring change.”

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Protesters gather at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo. Credit: Noha El-Hennawy

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