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Cablegate: Day of Protests Largely Quiet, but Violent Clash

VZCZCXYZ0019
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #0697/01 0981446
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 071446Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8833
INFO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 000697

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/ELA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PGOV PHUM ECON EG
SUBJECT: DAY OF PROTESTS LARGELY QUIET, BUT VIOLENT CLASH
ERUPTS IN NILE DELTA

REF: CAIRO 563

-------
Summary
-------

1.(SBU) A heavy and active security presence largely quelled
a planned April 6 national day of protests, but fatal clashes
between police and protestors erupted in the Nile Delta mill
town of Mehalla el Kobra. Whether due to calls by protest
organizers to stay home, worry over potential public
disorder, or the arrival of a seasonal sandstorm, many
Egyptian university students nonetheless refrained from
attending class, and Cairo's streets were noticeably emptier
than usual. End summary.

----------------
A Day of Protest
----------------

2. (SBU) Despite calls by labor activists and many opposition
groups for a nationwide day of strikes and protests on April
6, heavy security intervention and stern warnings from the
Ministry of Interior appear to have kept outward displays of
protest to a minimum. Violent clashes between police and
protestors did occur, however, in the Nile Delta textile town
of Mehalla el Kobra, leading to at least two deaths and an
undetermined number of arrests. Textile workers at the
public Ghazl el Mehalla (aka Mehalla Spinning and Weaving)
textile factory originally conceived the day of protests as a
means to further their calls for an increased minimum wage
and to criticize rising prices of basic commodities (reftel),
but other opposition groups such as the Kefaya movement soon
joined the call to highlight their own grievances with the
Mubarak government. In recent years Mehalla el Kobra has
been the epicenter of mass, illegal strikes against Egypt's
public textile factories as well as the proving ground for an
emerging independent labor leadership.

-------------------
Violence in Mehalla
-------------------

3. (SBU) Although an intense security presence inside the
factory had snuffed out plans for a mass strike at the Ghazl
el Mehalla textile factory, it did not prevent violent
clashes between police and protesters from erupting on the
streets of the town. Under heavy pressure from the GOE,
senior Mehalla labor leaders had agreed to halt their strike
plans despite the desire of some workers to carry on with the
protest. It is unclear what or who precipitated the
violence, but sometime between 3 and 4pm (coinciding with the
shift change at the factory), confrontations erupted between
police and protestors and Mehalla residents who were
gathering on a public square. Protestors hurled rocks at
riot police who according to several activists responded with
live fire and tear gas. (Photographs from the confrontation
forwarded to NEA/ELA.)

4. (SBU) The Arab Committee for Human Rights issued a
statement claiming that a 21-year-old man and 9-year-old boy
were killed, although some labor activists claim that several
more died in the clashes. One Mehalla labor activist told
NGO contacts that while hiding out in the local hospital to
evade arrest by the police, he heard from hospital staff that
four had been killed in the rioting, including children. NGO
contacts witnessed several shops being looted and set alight,
as well as the demolition of a gas station.

-----------------------------
A Day of Protests that Wasn't
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) In Cairo, despite relatively small gatherings
outside the lawyers' and press syndicate buildings, the mass
gathering planned by opposition group Kefaya for Cairo's
central square failed to materialize. Some contacts believe
the early arrests of opposition and student activists,
combined with stern warnings from the Ministry of Interior
against joining in the illegal protests, as well as a heavy
sandstorm, dampened public enthusiasm for the protests. The
Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most dynamic and popular
opposition force in the country, announced in the days
leading up to April 6 that it morally backed the strike, but
did not plan to participate, as it had not been involved in
its organization.

6. (SBU) An Amcit Arabic language student at the American
University Cairo said that perhaps only 20% of her Egyptian


classmates were present, and she had heard that a number of
professors had also stayed home. Press reports also note
high student absenteeism at Cairo, Helwan, and Ain Shams
universities. Traffic on Cairo's congested roadways seemed
extraordinarily light throughout the day and early evening.
RICCIARDONE

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