January 25: A Weekend of Violence

In the days leading up to the four year anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising, at least two protesters were killed, among them activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh. The death toll spiked on the anniversary itself, with over twenty killed and close to 100 injured. Violence was also witnessed in parts of the country in the form of attacks on police officers, electricity pylons, and railway lines. Below is a rundown of the violence Egypt witnessed over the January 25 weekend.

Death Toll

Photo: A woman crosses Tahrir square’s entrance, which is blocked by armored vehicles and barbed wire, during the fourth anniversary of the 2011 uprising (Reuters)

January 25
Twenty-three people were killed on January 25, and ninety-seven were injured according to Egypt’s ministry of health. At least three policemen were among those killed, and nineteen of those injured were members of the security force.

Protests took place in several places in Cairo including Matariya, which witnessed fierce clashes. Protests also took place in downtown Cairo, in front of the press syndicate, which was dispersed by security forces, and in Ain Shams.

Photo: Anti-government protesters help an injured protester when pro-government protesters threw stones during a protest in front of the press syndicate (Reuters)

Alexandria: Six were killed in Alexandria. A ministry of interior statement claimed that an armed “Muslim Brotherhood protester” was killed after shooting “randomly” at people with an automatic rifle. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said he was killed by “army bullets.”
Mattariya: At least twelve killed in protests including one policeman as well as a member of a famous Egyptian rap group.
: Two policeman were killed in drive-by shooting.
Beheira: Two militants were killed while planting an IED.

Photo: The aftermath of clashes in Matariya
January 24

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, was fatally shot in downtown Cairo on January 24. Sabbagh was in a small march heading to Tahrir Square to lay flowers in commemoration of the January 25 anniversary when she was shot in the back.

Photo: Socialist Popular Alliance Party activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh receives help after she was shot during a protest by the party in Cairo January 24, 2015. (Youm 7)

The Socialist Popular Alliance accused police of premeditated murder, while the interior ministry spokesman said police did not fire gunshots at the march, and blamed her death on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab both ordered investigations into Sabbagh’s death. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, meanwhile, offered his condolences to Sabbagh’s family and said that police were cooperating with the investigation. He also said that if the involvement of police personnel in her death is proven, he will personally “hand him in to be tried.”

Video taken immediately after Sabbagh was shot:

Security forces arrested six protesters at the march, among them the secretary general of the party. They were later released. Five members of the party went to the police station voluntarily to provide their eyewitness testimony but said they were questioned as suspects before being released.

Sabbagh’s death was widely condemned by local political parties and in the media.

  • The Popular Current called for an immediate investigation into Sabbagh’s death and also called for the dismissal of the interior minister.
  • The Dostour Party announced the suspension of all party activities for a week in mourning for Sabbagh. The party also called for a thorough investigation into her killing, and called for the reform of the interior ministry.
  • The Strong Egypt Party condemned both the deaths of Sabbagh and Sondos Abu Bakr.
  • The Conference Party condemned Sabbagh’s killing, but added that the shot came from an “unknown source.” They also called for an investigation into the incident.
  • The Democratic Trend Alliance is reconsidering whether or not to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections due to be held in March. Sabbagh’s party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, is part of the Democratic Trend Alliance, along with the Dostour Party, the Popular Current, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. They also called for Ibrahim’s dismissal, as well as the reform of the ministry.

A microbus driver also died on Saturday in Giza. Muslim Brotherhood protesters were clashing with security forces when Wassim Abdel-Gaber passed through the area and is believed to have been killed by a stray bullet.

January 23
Clashes in Alexandria on Friday saw the death of a 17-year-old girl, Sondos Reda Abu Bakr. According to some reports, she was 15. Pro-Brotherhood protesters clashed with security forces in Alexandria, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party accused security forces of killing her. A security official denied that security forces fired at the protest, saying that people were injured in clashes between residents and protesters.

516 individuals were arrested on January 25. The ministry of interior claimed that all those arrested were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. During a press conference, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim said, “We confirmed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that all those who took to the streets yesterday were Muslim Brotherhood elements alone.” Ibrahim also blamed the deaths on January 25 on the Brotherhood, saying, they “were shot with Muslim Brotherhood bullets.” Ibrahim also said that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to have “another revolution.”

Photo: Riot police detains an anti-government protester during a demonstration in downtown Cairo January 25, 2015. (Reuters)

Prosecutors have begun investigating forty-three defendants who were arrested in Mattariya.

Attacks on the Media

According to the Egyptian NGO Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO), at least twenty-five journalists were harassed or detained while covering the January 25 anniversary. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said on Sunday that eight journalists were arrested on January 25.

Journalists Ahmed and Mahmoud al-Kaoud were detained in the early hours of Sunday morning when police raided their home. They were released later in the day.

BBC journalist Orla Guerlin reported on Twitter that she was threatened by security forces in Cairo’s Ain Shams:

In Ain Shams where police searching for brotherhood protestors. Cop in plain clothes says if we keep filming we will be shot. #Cairo

— Orla Guerin (@OrlaGuerin) January 25, 2015

Freelance journalist Ester Meerman was briefly detained by police in downtown Cairo while recording a voiceover in an empty side street.

Ok the problem is my H4N sound recorder because it is a ‘strange device’. pic.twitter.com/CBcy9xC7cC

— Ester Meerman (@estermeerman) January 25, 2015

Militant Attacks

January 23
In addition to the two police officers killed in Haram, four policemen and a civilian were injured in Alf Maskan on Friday, when an IED detonated under a car. The area in which the attack took place is known for its police presence.

January 25

  • An IED targeting Central Security Forces exploded on Sunday, injuring two police officers. The attack also took place in Alf Maskan, near the Shams Sporting Club. Militant group Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Bombs targeting electricity pylons in Mounifeya caused blackouts in a number of villages.
  • A bomb destroyed a small section of the Cairo-Alexandria railway, while another IED was placed on the Zagazig-Ismailiya railway line, temporarily halting service.
  • On Sunday, authorities also decided to close eleven secondary railway lines at night due to security reasons.  

International response

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday condemning the violence, as well as the deaths of Sabbagh and Abu Bakr. “Four years after Egypt’s revolution, police are still killing protesters on a regular basis,” the statement read.

The European Union’s High Representative Federica Mogherini called on all parties to “show restraint.” In a statement issued on Sunday, Mogherini said “Freedom of peaceful demonstration must be safeguarded and dialogue is the only way forward.”

Image: Photo: Anti-government protesters shout slogans against the military and interior ministry during a protest in front of the journalists' syndicate in Cairo January 25, 2015. (Reuters)