CAIRO, Egypt – The arrest and beatings of protesters against President Hosni Mubarak indicates the Egyptian government will take a tough line as the country heads into its first multi-candidate presidential elections, analysts said Sunday.
The protest Saturday followed Mubarak’s decision to run for a fifth term in September. Police kicked and beat dozens of demonstrators and detained 20.
About 70 activists demonstrated outside the prosecutor-general’s office Sunday, demanding the release of the detainees and chanting: “Prisons have never changed ideas.”
“The regime is fighting for its survival and will do anything to prevail,” Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American sociologist, said of Saturday’s clashes in central Cairo.
State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck declined to comment on Egypt’s response to the demonstrations Saturday. But Washington had criticized the government after its supporters, with police standing by, attacked activists during a referendum in May. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the government must “make certain that people can associate and can peacefully petition.”
Later Sunday, about 100 protesters in three groups staged anti-government protests in a main square in Cairo. Some protesters linked the government’s crackdown on opponents to the Islamic extremist bombings in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on July 23, which killed more than 80 people.
“No to the terrorism of the (militant) groups and no to the state’s terrorism,” read a banner of the Tagammu Party. Supporters of the rival al-Ghad Party packed the long balcony of their headquarters, which overlooks the square, and chanted “Down with Hosni Mubarak!” A third group of activists chanted “Down with Mubarak and down with his dogs” – referring to the security forces.
The three groups, who took pains to keep apart, did not clash with the more than a thousand riot police and plainclothes agents cordoning off the square.
The United States is pressing Egypt to ensure that the Sept. 7 elections – the first in which there will be more than one presidential candidate – are free and fair. The major opposition groups say they will boycott the polls as they believe the 77-year-old Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, enjoys unfair advantages.
The government “feels American pressure is easing up in return for its supporting the American policy in the region and bolstering (U.S.) legitimacy in Iraq,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, an analyst with the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Cairo. He said the government is no longer worried about television channels broadcasting pictures of pro-government men beating protesters in the street.
In his speech Thursday, Mubarak said he would introduce reforms to enhance Egyptians’ rights as “free citizens in a democratic country.”
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