26 Jan 2011

Egypt bans protests after unrest, activity continues online

Egypt cracks down on demonstrations in an attempt to quell unprecedented protests against President Mubarak’s rule, as online activists tell Channel 4 News the battle continues online.

Egypt bans protests after unrest, activity continues online.

Egypt’s government denies that social media websites like Twitter and Facebook have been disrupted, saying the government respects freedom of expression.

“The government would not resort to such methods,” cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady said, after Egyptians complained social media sites were being blocked and mobile networks disrupted.

Earlier, officials said protests and marches will no longer be tolerated following demonstrations calling for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The Interior Ministry said activists risked being arrested if they took part in demonstrations.

The warning came as another protester died in Suez, in the east of Egypt, where two others had died the following day after police fired rubber bullets into the crowd of anti-government protesters.

A police officer was also killed in Cairo yesterday after he was hit on the head by a rock.

Leading activists have told Channel 4 News they dispute the official number of casualties and say the death toll of protesters is likely to be higher than three.

Police fired teargas and water cannon in the early hours of Wednesday to disperse protesters who occupied the capital’s central Tahrir Square into the night.

Scuffles continued earlier as activists called on Egyptians to take to the streets and defy the protest ban.

Witnesses said hundreds of protesters gathered outside Cairo’s journalists’ syndicate, an area the authorities allow regular protests.

There were reports of plainclothes officers grabbing cameras and beating people.

In Suez, witnesses said hundreds gathered outside a morgue where the body was held of one of the three people killed in the city. Protesters fought with police as they demanded the body.

Some 20,000 demonstrators, complaining of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and inspired by this month’s downfall of the president of Tunisia, had turned out in cities across Egypt on Tuesday to demand that Mubarak step down.

'Teargas and rubber bullets'
In the heart of Cairo's concrete jungle police fired teargas and rubber bullets to break up what is now the biggest challenge to Hosni Mubarak's 30 year rule, our Channel 4 News correspondent in Egypt writes.

In Cairo the protesters may have numbered a few thousand at most. But amid the tear gas, the stones, the skirmishes the picture emerging here is extraordinary because the defiance is unprecedented. Protests were officially banned today.

Hundreds across Egypt have been arrested. With plainclothes police seen frogmarching suspects away. We followed protestors fleeing the teargas into a warren of backstreets. This is not over one of them told us. Its only just begun. The protests began outside Cairo's clubs for Journalist and Lawyers. Calling for fresh elections after those last November gave the President's party a widely ridiculed 93 per cent. Some journalists trying to film here were attacked by plainclothes police.

The crowds didn't seem particularly religious or particularly poor. Not that police firing in their direction were discriminating. Among the injured and teargassed were Egypt's and educated internet savvy future.

They've been inspired by Tunisia's revolt and are in search of a country no longer led by Hosni Mubarak - who is now 82. Still staring down from billboards outside Cairo's vast army barracks, the rumours that he wants his son to replace him are only adding to the sense of despair here.

The front page of state newspapers put the protests in Lebanon as its top story today - ahead of the extraordinary scenes at home, which were covered lower down. The paper announced that grateful citizens had given the police flowers and chocolates. So perhaps its no wonder activists have turned to Facebook and Twitter.

Both sites are intermittently blocked now protesters say they are still finding new ways of spreading the word.

Online activity

One opposition group, the Sixth of April Youth, called on its Facebook page for protests to continue on Wednesday “and after tomorrow, until Mubarak goes”. A set of political demands were posted on Facebook and passed around Tahrir Square on slips of paper before police moved in.

Sheets were also distributed advising people how to bypass mobile network providers after the authorities cracked down on communications.

The internet has been the main platform for some of the most vociferous criticism of Mubarak. The complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia: soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand.

After activists used social networking and blog sites to coordinate protests and distribute video many websites were blocked inside Egypt.

Twitter and Facebook were censored today as activists took to the internet to communicate the latest events from across Egyptm using the hash tag #jan25.

Live stream websites such as ustream.com have been blocked, along with local news websites dostor.org and elbadil.net.

Some using mobile applications and alternative programmes were able to bypass the Twitter block. Other web-savvy users have used proxies to circumvent the online censorship.

Anonymous attack

One online activist told Channel 4 News that the Facebook block would hinder the online organisation of large-scale events, but it was not expected to stop people mobilising locally.

On Tuesday the loosely-organised online group Anonymous conducted a denial-of-service attack on a number of government websites.

One source told Channel 4 News the websites for the Ministry of Interior and the ruling party were brought down for a few hours after hacker activity.

The attacks followed a similar ‘cyber war’ in Tunisia where key government websites were knocked offline during street protests that led to the toppling of President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.

The Egyptian protests are unlike anything witnessed in the country since Mubarak came to power in 1981 after president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.

The Interior Ministry blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for Tuesday’s violence, although the banned Islamist opposition group has only played a small part in protests and has even angered its own youth members by not being active enough.