ElBaradei leads big Egypt anti-torture protest
Alexandria, June 26, 2010
Potential Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei led thousands of people in an anti-torture protest that analysts said was significant for joining disparate groups in a common cause.
Around 4,000 people, representing varied political views, and many ordinary citizens greeted ElBaradei, 68, the former nuclear inspector, as he visited the port city of Alexandria yesterday (June 25) to offer condolences to the family of Khaled Mohammed Said, an Egyptian who rights groups say was beaten to death by police.
The protest, ElBaradei's second public appearance this month and the first in which his family joined him in public, was his biggest rally so far. Earlier in June he visited Fayoum in a signature drive campaign that drew some 3,500 supporters.
The events in part reflect pent up frustration in Egypt after almost three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak, 82, and with an emergency law that gives authorities wide powers to quash dissent.
Mubarak has no designated successor and has not said if he will seek another term in the 2011 presidential election. If he does not, the most common view is that he will hand power to his politician son Gamal, 46.
ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog head, has said he may run in the 2011 presidential vote if there were constitutional reforms, but the existing rules make it almost impossible for an independent to get on the ballot. The government insists the electoral system is free and fair.
In the latest protest, crowds chanted pro-democracy slogans and waved images of Said while ElBaradei, flanked by hundreds of worshippers, emerged from a mosque after Muslim prayers.
Youths and activists from political and online groups including the Facebook group 'ElBaradei for presidency of 2011' joined the protest. Some chanted 'Down Down Hosni Mubarak' and 'Said you are a martyr' while rushing to meet ElBaradei.
Said's death has become a rallying point for government opponents demanding an end to 30 years of emergency law, which they say allows police to abuse citizens with impunity.
'This gathering of people from all walks of life and the anger they expressed against practices of torture is a message to the regime that Egyptians are against such inhumane practices,' ElBaradei told Reuters.
But he added: 'Breaking the barrier of fear is an incremental process that takes time. But with democracy we will have no fear.'
Thousands of riot police spread across the city and surrounded the mosque, forming a tight cordon around excited protesters, but only after ElBaradei was let past the crowd and away from the area.
A security source said 60 armoured trucks full of riot police were sent to Alexandria in anticipation of the protest.
Earlier protests in Cairo against police brutality have been forcibly broken up by police and dozens of protesters detained.
Egyptian authorities say Said died of choking on drugs and and despite signs of beating that was not the cause of death.
Numerous witnesses gave Human Rights Watch (HRW) corroborating descriptions of Said being beaten to death, prompting the rights group on Thursday to call on Egypt to prosecute the culprits.
'We know the price Egyptian citizens pay for giving testimony against the interior ministry or the police force,' political analyst Amr El Shobky said. 'Yet despite that, those who saw what happened spoke of it.' – Reuters