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Rights Researcher Alarmed by Egyptian 'State' Violence

  • Peter Clottey

French photojournalist Alfred Yaghobzadeh being treated by anti-government protesters in central Tahrir Square, Cairo, February 2, 2011

French photojournalist Alfred Yaghobzadeh being treated by anti-government protesters in central Tahrir Square, Cairo, February 2, 2011

A researcher for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch told VOA she is “extremely concerned” about what she described as government-sponsored violence perpetrated against anti-government protesters, who demand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down after nearly three decades in power.

Heba Morayef said the government, in her words, has the clear responsibility not only to protect freedom of assembly, but also to protect people who were demonstrating peacefully.

“We were monitoring the demonstrations day after day. These were peaceful demonstrators; they were unarmed; they were searched before entering the [Tahrir] square to ensure that nobody could smuggle in any knives or objects that could cause harm to others,” said Morayef.

“We believe that the violence was overwhelmingly sponsored by either the state or the [ruling] National Democratic Party and we believe this because of the pattern of violence by hired thugs that has become common in Egypt around election time. This is one of the tools the government has used to crack down on voters and constituencies where it doesn’t wish to have free elections, and these tactics we saw employed again [Wednesday].”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the violent clashes that broke out Wednesday when supporters of Mr. Mubarak surged into Tahrir Square and faced off against opposition demonstrators. He called the incident a “disaster” and said it would not happen again.

The violence received wide international condemnation, including the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, who described the violence as “unacceptable.”

Another round of anti-government protests has been scheduled for Friday after Muslim prayers to further press home protesters; demand that Mr. Mubarak step down and cede power

Organizers describe Friday’s planned demonstration as “the day of departure” implying that President Mubarak should step down and leave the country.

Morayef said there are strong indications that officials of the ruling party masterminded the violence against the anti-government protesters. She also expressed doubt about any genuine government probe into the violence.

“The apology is unprecedented, the commitment to investigate also. We don’t necessarily have high hopes of that because no investigations into violence surrounding peaceful demonstrations have ever progressed to court. The investigations always stop at the initial level and there is widespread impunity and police abuse around protests,” said Morayef.

‘But, more than that, we see today that the violence is ongoing; there are more gunshots and the situation is becoming increasingly chaotic, and completely undermining what was a very peaceful protest with a set of legitimate demands that the government refused to listen to,” she added.

Meanwhile, in an interview, Mr. Mubarak said he is fed up with being the country's leader and would like to leave now, but fears Egypt would sink deeper into chaos if he did.