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Middle East

Egyptian police defend presidential palace

Cairo's presidential palace was the scene of heavy clashes on Friday. Egyptian police forces shot live ammunition at protesters, and at least one protester was killed. Egyptians on the street say that it won't end there.

Every few seconds the sound of a shotgun blast shot by Egypt's paramilitary police force can be heard. The atmosphere is tense. This isn't teargas that's being fired. This time the rounds are live, and the protesters know they could be putting their lives at stake.

Two young men carry their wounded friend to an ambulance. His upper thigh took a few of the shotgun's pellets. But even in the ambulance, caution is taken. A few minutes earlier, a photographer said, the ambulance he was riding in was struck by shotgun pellets.

Across the street from the emergency vehicle, 27-year-old Hazim sat on a curb. A gas mask lies next to him. "They set off tons of teargas, he said. "Something like five or seven shots all at once. They're also shooting at people with shot. Ten minutes ago they started shooting at us from the roof of a nearby building." Hazim said he saw four people firing down at the square.

Pronouncements of force

But the protestors, themselves, also appeared to have taken an aggressive stance. In contrast to previous demonstrations, this time they attacked the presidential palace in Cairo. Molotov cocktails flew over the palace wall, causing nearby trees to catch fire. Egyptian police retaliated with teargas.

Helmet-clad Egyptian police forces hold their line against civilian protestors in brighter-colored clothes. (Photo: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Police and protesters scuffle as protesters try to break through a gate of the presidential palace

Early Friday evening (01.02.2013), President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood gave nearly simultaneous statements. In his address, Morsi called for opposition parties to condemn the violent acts of protestors at the presidential palace. The Muslim Brotherhood demanded opposition parties instruct their followers to abandon the demonstrations.

At the same time, Morsi's spokesperson announced that security forces would now defend government property with determination and force. A short time later police began shooting at demonstrators with shotguns.

Opposition holds little control over demonstrators

Standing behind a jumbled array of microphones attached to multiple podiums, Egyptian politicians jockey for a position to speak (Photo: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

The Muslim Brotherhood and opposition parties announce the results of their closed-door meeting

Yet the influence opposition parties have on protestors is marginal, Hazim said. "All the politicians and parties - they basically aren't connected to the people on the street. They think they are, but they aren't. When Mohammed ElBaradei or Hamdeen Sabahi [opposition party leaders] tell people, 'Go home!' the people say 'No!' because they're not the ones who bring people out onto the streets."

A closed meeting that took place Thursday between the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and opposition parties has now been rendered meaningless. In it, all participants had declared their intent to, among other things, reject any form of violence in the political debate. But given the opposition's limited influence over demonstrators, that statement had little effect.

Recently restarted dialogs are now considered dead, and the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood is once again holding opposition parties responsible for any violence.

Hazim said he thinks protestors will only stop when the president steps down. They've had enough of the president's inaction, he said, and want to see some improvement.

"Maybe the violence is a kind of reaction to Morsi's policies," Hazim said. "He does what he wants and doesn't listen to anyone. He says, 'Egypt is good, Egypt is beautiful,' just like he did when he visited Germany, totally ridiculous."

Police pounce

It is in the security sector that, above all else, action needs to be taken. Demonstrators clash with the police due to their hatred for state security forces. In the past, many Egyptians were exposed to the arbitrariness and brutality of the police and intelligence agents. Over the last two years more than a few Egyptians were witness to the deaths of friends or family as a result of police violence.

With a dramatic sunset backdrop illumating the scene from behind, a protestor stands on a ledge above his friends and waves the red, white and black Egyptian flag through the sunlight. (Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A protester holds an Egyptian flag as he stands on Kasr El Nile bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square in Cairo

The most recent act of unheralded violence from Egyptian police could also be watched on live Egyptian television on Thursday. A unit from the paramilitary police pounced on an unarmed 48-year-old man lying on the ground. They pulled the clothes from his body until he was completely naked, lying on the asphalt in front of the presidential palace. They then beat him with clubs and fists. When they were finished they dragged him to a police transporter in which he disappeared.

Such scenes are the reason the revolution began in Egypt two years ago. Yet to this day many say the state security apparatus has not been reformed. Police officers who have committed crimes are seldom called to answer for their actions. Without the introduction of reforms, violent street clashes will continue.

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