Egypt Deploys Police to Monitor Tunisia-Inspired Rally
Cairo (AP) - Thousands of Egyptian forces deployed Tuesday in a massive security operation across Cairo ahead of the first Tunisian-inspired protests here, while the country's top security official warned the government would not tolerate any street disturbances.
Black-clad riot police, backed by armored vehicles and fire engines, fanned out across the Egyptian capital, with the biggest concentration at likely flashpoints, including the main Cairo University campus, the central Tahrir Square and the city's largest courthouse in the downtown.
The protest organizers and opposition supporters -- inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia -- have dubbed the planned rallies, which are expected to start in the early afternoon mainly in Cairo and Alexandria, as "the day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment."
The rally call spread on Facebook and Twitter, with 90,000 saying they will attend.
Amnesty International expressed worries over protesters' safety, urging authorities to "refrain from excessive and disproportionate force."
Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said "decisive measures" will be imposed in the face of chaos on what is otherwise known as "Police Day" -- a holiday honoring the much-feared force. Government offices, businesses and schools were closed for the day.
By noon, it was too early to predict how the protests would go.
The rallies were planned against a backdrop of growing anger in Egypt over wide poverty and deteriorating economy, as well as questions about President Hosni Mubarak's possible successor in presidential elections later this year.
The first ramifications of the Tunisia uprising surfaced last week in Egypt when several people set themselves on fire or attempted to do so outside parliament and the prime minister's office. Their actions sought to copy a young Tunisian vegetable vendor whose self-immolation helped spark the protests that forced Tunisia's authoritarian president to flee the country.
Nearly half of Egypt's 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the United Nations at $2 a day. Poor quality education, health care and high unemployment have left large numbers of Egyptians deprived of basic needs.
The government has played down self-immolation attempts, with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif telling reporters on Monday that those who committed the act were driven by "personal issues."
On Monday alone, police reported at least two self-immolation attempts in two provinces. In Cairo, a man in his 60s slashed his wrists in the middle of a small demonstration. None of the three died.
Soon after the Jan. 14 ouster of Tunisia's longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, all eyes focused on Egypt, with observers wondering if the dramatic events in the North African nation could spur unrest against another entrenched Arab regime.
The call for protests was first initiated by "The Martyr" Facebook page, set up in the name of a young Egyptian man, Khaled Said, whose family and witnesses say was beaten to death by a pair of policemen in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria last year. His case has become a rallying point for the opposition. Two policemen are currently on trial in connection with his death.
Legal parties such as the liberal Wafd and Al-Ghad in addition to supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood -- Egypt's best organized opposition group -- workers, students, government employees and activists said they will join the rally.
Organizers listed instructions on the Facebook page, including: bring an Egyptian flag, leave any other banners that represent your religious or political affiliation at home.