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11.21.11

Bedlam in Tahrir Square as Dozens Are Killed in Renewed Egypt Protests

As protests rage again in Tahrir Square, the military is meeting the demonstrators, many of them young and jobless, with tear gas, rubber bullets—and live ammunition. Mike Giglio and R.M. Schneiderman on the mounting chaos.

Ahmed Salah, a veteran Egyptian activist, stood in the middle of Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Street as tear gas canisters hissed nearby and protesters rushed their injured colleagues back to safety.  “This is a war of attrition,” he said.

The street, which leads into Tahrir Square, is normally known as the home of the American University in Cairo. But in recent days it has become a front line in pitched battles between protesters and the Egyptian authorities.

One week before Egypt’s much-anticipated parliamentary elections, the streets have turned to bedlam once again. The decision by the military, which has run the country since strongman Hosni Mubarak resigned in February, to crack down on the remnants of a massive protest on Friday have reignited large segments of the opposition—many of them young and jobless, and some wielding rocks—who have once again piled into Tahrir Square and its nearby environs, demanding the free and fair election they called for earlier this year.

On Monday, as news broke that the country’s interim prime minister and Cabinet had offered their resignations, people continued to pour into the square and push outward. The security forces and the military continued their assault, meeting the protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition.

Since Sunday, more than 1,500 have reportedly been injured and dozens killed.

Salah worried the authorities were trying to wear the protesters down. “They [the military] are very desperate now,” he said. “And they are going to do very desperate things to stay in power.”

Throughout the day on Monday, ambulances continued to shuttle protesters from the front lines to makeshift hospitals in Tahrir Square, while protesters carried their injured colleagues on the backs of motorcycles. Inside the chaotic field hospital in the center of the square, as one man lay unconscious with a rubber bullet wound to the head and another frothed from the mouth, a doctor said the situation was worse than what he’d seen during the initial wave of protests against Mubarak in January. “It’s too much,” he said. “There is no mercy.”

At another site near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, protesters linked arms to form a human shield to protect the injured from panicked crowds. “I’ve had one killed with cardiac arrest! Due to this f---ing gas,” a doctor yelled, as tear gas filtered down a nearby alley.

Even as the injuries and death toll mounted, though, the crowds in the square continued to swell. Throughout the country, meanwhile, public opinion appeared to again be gathering steam in support of the protesters doing battle with the regime. “The military overreached,” says Shadi Hamid, an analyst with the Brookings Institution.