One protester was briefly kidnapped, and others attacked, during a demonstration today in Egypt in front of the Syrian Embassy.
On the heels of a demonstration yesterday at the Ministry of the Interior in Damascus that saw more than 30 people arrested, another protest today against authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad inspired a crackdown from regime officials—but this time in Cairo.
A group of Syrians and Egyptians gathered in front of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo today to protest the Assad regime’s tactics both at home, where NGOs rank the country among the region’s least free, and abroad. Lina Tibi, a Syrian living in Cairo, held a sign that read “No Support for Gaddafi”—a reference to news reports that Syria has been sending weapons to aid Col. Muammar Gaddafi in his fight against Libyan rebels.
Shortly after the demonstration began, according to Tibi and others in attendance, the ambassador briefly appeared. When he returned to the building, protesters said, he pointed to a collection of people who were waiting inside—who proceeded to advance on the demonstration, some holding riot sticks. “They went out, they kicked us, they took all our signs, and then they began to [curse] us, especially the women,” Tibi said in a phone interview. Someone ripped the sign from her hands, tore it to pieces, and threw it on the ground.
Protesters say this YouTube video depicts part of the attack.
Hany Elmihy, meanwhile, an Egyptian blogger, said he was standing off to the side, taking photos of the attack, when he was assaulted. Seeing his camera, he said, five men approached and threw him to the ground. They kicked him and beat him with a riot stick, breaking four of his teeth, then began dragging him to the embassy. “I started to say, ‘I am Egyptian,’ ” he said, “and the other Egyptians stopped them.”
His camera, cell phone, and laptop, he said, were then confiscated, and he was brought to the hospital.
One man, though, was apparently not so lucky. Witnesses said another Egyptian was pulled inside the embassy and held there at least 10 minutes as the crowd outside began to swell with his angry compatriots before he was eventually retrieved—battered and seemingly shell-shocked— by Egyptian police. A separate YouTube video shows the man’s release.
The man was a member of Egypt’s Al-Wafd party, which has its offices nearby. “He was hit and assaulted,” says Mohamed Taima, the vice president of the party’s news site, alwafd.org, adding that the man emerged from the embassy bruised and partly clothed.
After the protest, the Syrian ambassador, Yusuf Al-Ahmad, apologized to the party, Taima said. Some Egyptians have called for Al-Ahmad to be removed from his post.
Ahed Al Hendi, a former student activist who fled Damascus in 2006 and is now the Arabic programs coordinator at CyberDissidents.org, says that, in the wake of the Arab spring, the Assad regime may be worried about an uptick in pro-democracy sentiment—wherever it might take hold. “Their mentality of dealing with people is like gangsters,” he says.
Al Hendi and other Syrian activists in the diaspora say their fellow ex-pats have been getting easier to organize of late. Thaer al Nashef, a Syrian journalist and author in Cairo, called a demonstration in December that was attended only by him and one other man. But when he organized a demonstration in front of the embassy this past Tuesday, he said, 80 Syrians took part. “It was a lot of fear among Syrians before,” he said.
But it appears that people close to the Assad regime want to keep that fear alive. (Al-Ahmad, the ambassador, is married to Assad’s cousin.) Nashef had planned to attend today’s demonstration, he said, until he received a mysterious phone call: “You are doing bad things, you whore,” the caller said. “We will whip you on the ground. You and all of your Nasher family.”
Since receiving the call, he hasn’t left his house.
Mike Giglio is a reporter at Newsweek.