Pro-democracy activists in Egypt stage anti-Mubarak demonstrations

Organizers say at least 125 arrested across country

April 28, 2005|By Evan Osnos | Evan Osnos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CAIRO, Egypt - Hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators denounced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday at a rally in the capital while organizers said scores of activists were arrested in other cities.

The action by about 250 protesters - small by the standards of mass rallies in Lebanon or Bahrain - was a notable act of dissent in Egypt's strict political confines, extending a regional wave of pro-democracy activities in recent months.

The rally drew intense scrutiny from authorities, who surrounded it with more than 1,000 helmeted riot police and plainclothes intelligence officers.

Organizers had tried to stage their largest public action yet, with coordinated protests in 15 cities from Aswan in the upper Nile valley to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

But authorities appeared to pre-empt that by rounding up at least 125 activists across the country, organizers said. All but two of those arrested had been released by yesterday evening.

Protest leaders in Cairo could not be sure where other demonstrations unfolded and where they did not. That would be a key indicator of whether Egypt's increasingly bold democracy movement has succeeded in building strength beyond its core of urban intellectuals. Public protests against the government were all but unheard of in Egypt until late last year, when disparate opposition groups gelled into a movement that has successfully staged five rallies of 50 to 500 people.

At yesterday's four-hour Cairo rally, dominated by leftist and moderate Islamic intellectuals, protesters filled the steps of a journalists association, chanting slogans such as "Let Mubarak fall." Standing among the uniformed security officials, men in plainclothes could be overhead talking into cell phones, describing key protesters, identifying familiar faces and delivering recitations of their chants.

Mubarak, 76, has recently made gestures of political openness, calling for the country's first direct multiparty presidential elections. His government has gingerly widened the window of acceptable dissent in the past two years.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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