CAIRO - Egyptian police on Monday beat anti-government protesters who were demanding an end to the country's 30-year emergency law that restricts civil freedoms in the latest challenge to the authorities from the streets of Cairo.
The scuffle erupted after several hundred policemen, dressed in black uniforms, pushed back about 150 protesters who had gathered in the downtown and tried to break through a security barrier.
The police beat members of the pro-reform youth April 6 movement, prompting some demonstrators to hurl sticks and plastic bottles back at the officers. One protester was badly bruised and bloodied, and another was arrested.
“All of a sudden, I felt tens of people on top of me, and while I was down on the ground they kept kicking me,” said protester Hasan Mustafa, bleeding from the neck and in a pink T-shirt marked with shoe prints. Pulling up the shirt, he showed the bruising inflicted by police kicking.
Police arrested Ahmed Doma, who friends said had also been detained in an earlier rally.
Monday’s demonstration was organized by opposition lawmakers seeking to end the emergency law, which is up for renewal in parliament later in May. The lawmakers were joined by two reformist movements - the Egyptian Women for Change and April 6, which backs the unofficial candidacy of former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei in Egypt’s presidential elections next year.
President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 and only introduced multi-candidate presidential elections in 2005. His party has kept a stranglehold on the country’s politics, in part thanks to the controversial law.
The bill allows police to jail pro-reform activists, political opponents and journalists, and also allows detention without charge for long periods of time and searches without warrants. It has been strongly criticized by the opposition and human rights groups.
Under the law, demonstrations are illegal. Riot police severely beat protesters and arrested dozens at an April 6 rally last month.
Mubarak’s National Democratic Party dominates a rubber-stamp parliament. The opposition expects its numbers in parliament to decline after parliamentary elections later this year because of new political restrictions pushed through as constitutional amendments in 2007.
The lawmakers, who had wanted to march to parliament but were prevented by police, watched the beatings from the sidelines of the protest.
Egypt is to hold presidential elections next year. The constitutional amendments restrict candidates such as ElBaradei from running and allow only candidacies of a few members of approved political parties.
The April 6 youth movement was formed through online social networking sites such as Facebook, taking its name from a general strike it organized in 2008. It periodically organizes pro-reform protests.