american ‘freedom’ in egypt

Egyptian protesters torch opposition headquarters
Maggie Michael, AP, Nov 6 2008

Dozens of protesters stormed the headquarters of Egypt’s most prominent opposition politician and set it on fire early Thursday, injuring seven people, eyewitnesses and police said. The violence was the latest infighting in the opposition al-Ghad party, bitterly divided between supporters of jailed dissident Ayman Nour and those who back a pro-government leader. About 200 protesters first pelted the al-Ghad headquarters in downtown Cairo with stones and bottles, said Hussein Amin, a witness who said he watched from a balcony across the street. Then some used aerosol cans to spray flames at the offices, located in an old building that also houses two 19th century restaurants and shops. “The thugs smashed the fronts of shops and restaurants, then torched a part of the building’s wrought-iron gates before climbing the stairs,” said Amin. “Then I saw the whole floor catching fire. I saw the thugs attack firefighters, trying to take the hose from them.” Police said the seven injured suffered from burns and smoke inhalation. A security official said 20 people were arrested in the melee. A prominent former lawmaker, Nour founded the al-Ghad party in 2004. A year later, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison after allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register the party. However, the opposition contends he was imprisoned for running against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections. At the time, Mubarak had ruled the country unchallenged for two and a half decades.

Nour’s imprisonment was followed by deep party divisions. Deputy leader Moussa Moustafa Moussa, a pro-government figure, claimed the right to succeed Nour at the party helm, and the right to take over the party headquarters and newspaper. He recently won a court order to take over the al-Ghad headquarters. But Nour’s wife, Gamila Ismail, and others in the party have opposed Moussa’s takeover. Ismail, who was inside the headquarters during the rioting Thursday, accused the police of siding with the rioters. “The police disappeared when we needed protection. They were collaborating with the thugs to destroy the party offices,” she told AP by phone. “They destroyed everything: our documents, pictures, computers and files.” Moussa could not be immediately reached for comment. During the melee, Ismail came out onto a balcony one floor below the torched party offices and shouted: “Down, down Hosni Mubarak.” From the street downstairs, Moussa’ supporters chanted back at her: “Here is the traitor.” Later, the official Middle East News Agency reported that Cairo prosecutors questioned Ismail and 37 other people. The MENA report said they all face charges of arson and damage of personal property. It did not say whether Ismail and the others were held in custody.

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