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Egypt Elections: Renewed Street Clashes Pose Dilemma For Popular Muslim Brotherhood

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CAIRO -- For three days, protesters -- mainly young, urban and secular -- have taken to Tahrir Square, the site of the original uprising that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak from power in February. Nine days ahead of the national elections scheduled for November 28, almost ceaseless clashes between rock-throwing civilians and riot gear-clad security forces armed with tear gas and rubber bullets have wounded more than 1,000 people and killed more than 24. The central square, once a rallying point for a euphoric people's democratic aspirations, has come to resemble more of a battle zone of national frustrations.

In the months since the revolution, party politics have fractured Egypt's opposition. Many revolutionaries felt that the main goal of the uprising -- to end an autocratic and arbitrary regime -- had not been achieved, since the temporary military junta that took over for Mubarak was prone to much of the same behaviors as before.

This is a developing story. See below for the latest updates.

The elections scheduled to take place later this month will only elect a parliament, while the Army has repeatedly delayed handing over executive powers to civilian control.

The Muslim Brotherhood voiced its dissatisfaction with this state of affairs in a massive, peaceful demonstration against the Army's rule on Friday in Tahrir Square, but disappointed revolutionaries, including many of its own, by not seeing it through the following days of tumult.

On Sunday morning, Ahmed Nazili, a Muslim Brotherhood youth leader, stood on the eastern edge of Tahrir Square, at the foot of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, surveying the skirmishes about half a block away and venting his frustration over his party's refusal to support the demonstrations.

"A few days ago, I would have told you that Egypt was in a political struggle and clash that was very bad for the revolution," Nazili said. "What happened [on Saturday morning]" -- when police forcibly cleared the last few protesters from Friday's event, setting off the present fighting -- "lifted the veil on the lie that [the military council] are protectors of the revolution."

Dressed in a yellow pullover and a white polo shirt, Nazili said he had been in the square all night and was planning to stay for as long as he could.

But while many of the revolutionary and liberal candidates have suspended their campaigns in the past few days, especially after the Army engaged in a brief but brutal sweep of Tahrir Square on Sunday evening, the Muslim Brotherhood had not. The conservative Islamist organization, which by most counts has the largest following in the country, had opted instead to focus its energy on the upcoming elections.

On Monday, the movement's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), announced for the first time that it will, in fact, suspend political campaigning, but it was not yet clear whether the Brotherhood would endorse the street demonstrations or merely freeze overt campaign activities.

On Monday, Egypt's state television also reported that the Cabinet has submitted its resignation.

As he stood in Tahrir on Sunday, Nazili, 33, saw his party's indecision as a major obstacle to a revolution that many feel has not yet been completed.

"The Brotherhood has so far decided it will not participate," he said with disappointment. "But I as an individual felt I must come, because I believe we must protect the revolution, and the continuation of the revolution. This is our duty at this moment, and not to just set up chairs in an air-conditioned hall."

Periodically, the police, firing volley after volley of tear gas, would surge forward, causing a flood of combatants to come rushing furiously past, but Nazili hardly budged.

"Don't worry, don't worry," he said calmly, as he carried on speaking.

"Look, one of the main problems was that the stepping down of Mubarak came before we had a new leadership -- this was a huge problem," he went on. "Now, one of our main goals is to create a revolutionary support front, but the Brotherhood has not participated because of the stubbornness of some of the elderly leadership."

For days, as the skirmishes in Tahrir have heated up, the party establishment made its position clear, sending messages via Facebook and Twitter that have been ambiguously worded but plainly anti-demonstration.

When Mohammed Badie, the "general guide" of the Brotherhood, took to his Twitter page on Sunday to discuss the protests, he wrote that while he condemned the use of force against "peaceful protesters," all sides must use more restraint and refrain from damaging property.

In a remark that seems to have been primarily directed at the protesters, he added, "I call for all those loyal sons of Egypt to be extremely patient and not to allow our enemies, and those who want to delay our great revolution, to be allowed to do so."

In a visit Sunday to the headquarters of the FJP, The Huffington Post was told that the party's position was not to encourage any attempts to interfere with the stable and effective exercise of the election, a thinly veiled way of saying that the protests should cease.

The only newspaper available at the party headquarters was a single copy of the state-run Al-Gomhurriya. Its lead headline: "Tens of Injuries At Clashes Between Protesters And Police; Security Source Says Police Keeping Calm Despite Assault On Them From Protesters."

"They say that any escalation in the streets is against the revolution, and that elections are the only way forward," Nazili said. "But I'm against that strongly."

It's hard to say how substantial a portion of the Brotherhood is represented by people like Nazili.

Shadi Hamid, an expert on Islamist political parties with the Brookings Doha Center who has been in Cairo for the past week, said that in a recent conversation with an FJP official, the subject of street protests didn't come up once.

"There was no way the Brotherhood was going to support the Tahrir protesters yesterday," Hamid told The Huffington Post. "That's not what the Brotherhood does. The Brotherhood is a smart and cautious movement, and they're not going to put their weight behind a small group of protesters. That's the last thing they want to do right before election day."

But, Hamid went on, "There definitely is a tension between some of the younger members and the older leadership. I don't think that most Brotherhood youth have that position [of supporting the protestors], just a certain subsection of youth who tend to be in Cairo or Alexandria."

Nazili, a marketing consultant by trade, conceded that he could not quantify how much of the party supported his viewpoint -- "a large amount of those under 40," he said -- but he added that if it doesn't more forcefully back the street movements, the party risks alienating even diehard supporters.

"Unfortunately a large segment of the people over time are losing faith in the Brotherhood, because their policies are translated to them as 'They don't care about anything but winning parliament,'" he said. "We have good principles but bad marketing."

This may have been the calculus that led to Monday's announcement by the FJP to suspend its campaign.

Over the weekend, the stirrings of discontent at the Brotherhood's refusal to condone the protests, particularly among some youthful members of the party and breakaway movements (including the ex-Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian Current Party), were beginning to get through to the Brotherhood's leadership.

Two members of the Egyptian Current movement have been killed in the course of the street clashes, including one who died Sunday night in Tahrir.

On Monday morning, Mohamed el-Beltagi, one of the foremost rising figures in the movement, wrote on his Facebook page that the youth in the square have a right to be angry, and that the Brotherhood should review their stance on the protests in Tahrir Square.

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Egyptian-American reporter Mona Eltahawy was reportedly beaten and arrested today in Cairo. She tweeted, "Beaten arrested in interior ministry", sparking a Twitter-wide frenzy. The U.S. State Department responded via Twitter, saying "Reports of @monaeltahawy and @pangeaworld detention very concerning. @USEmbassyCairo engaging authorities. #FreeMona"

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The Associated Press has an update on the arrest of Jehane Nojaim.

AP -- An American film maker has told a colleague by phone that she was arrested by Egyptian police while documenting clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Jehane Nojaim's producer Karim Amer says she was detained and her camera was confiscated.

He said Wednesday he was separated from her after they both fled from tear gas.

Nojaim is an award-winning film maker of Egyptian ancestry, best known for her 2004 documentary "Control Room" about the pan-Arab news station, Al-Jazeera.

Clashes resumed for a fifth day in central Cairo despite a promise by the head of the ruling military council to speed transition to civilian rule, aiming for next July. Protesters demand that the military leave office now.

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@ liamstack : Arrested the moment CSF broke truce on mansur st "@hadeelalsh: American-Egyptian film maker Jehane Nojaim arrested by mil police in #Tahrir"

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The grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most important religious institution in Egypt, urged police to refrain from shooting on protesters, Al Arabiya reports.

Al-Azhar “calls on the police leadership to immediately issue orders not to point their weapons at demonstrators... no matter what the reasons,” grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb reportedly saidin a recorded address on state television.

“Al-Azhar also calls on our children in Tahrir Square and all the squares of Egypt to maintain the peaceful nature of their revolution, despite the sacrifices and difficulties they face and to protect all private and public property,” the imam added.

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Al Masry Al Youm reports Egypt's Health Minister Amr Helmy acknowledged the use of live ammunition, cartridges and rubber bullets against demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

Helmy also promised to launch a committee to examine the type of teargas that was fired at the protesters. He denied the use of nerve agent in the gas, as Mohamed ElBaradei suggested in a tweet yesterday.

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Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports from Tahrir Square that Mohamed Mahmoud street is being hit with constant rounds of tear gas. Dozens of people are injured. Tadros says the protesters are putting up bonfires to create a buffer between the demonstrators and the police.

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Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

@ seldeeb : security firing at protesters near #tahrir: via @twitpic (via @Menna_Medhat)

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The BBC's David Botti has an interesting piece on Mohamed Mahmoud street, site of most of the clashes in the past days.

Botti writes:

The street is largely unknown to the outside world - overshadowed by the street's neighbor, Tahrir Square. But its role in Egypt's struggle to navigate a post-revolution era mirrors that of the nation where violence still flares and people still demand change.

Read the article here.

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CNN's Ben Wedeman reporting discord between the Army and Central Security in Tahrir

@ bencnn : It is clear there is a serious disagreement between the Army and Interior Ministry over how to deal with the battle off #Tahrir #Egypt

@ bencnn : Saw Army soldiers trying to stop Central Security Forces from throwing rocks, shooting teargas, but they were outnumbered. #tahrir #egypt

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The International Crisis Group weigh in on whether or not to hold Egypt's scheduled elections next week.

The group writes:

There are valid arguments as to why elections cannot be held that early given ongoing violence and instability. But a postponement – at least without a consensus among political parties – could prove far more costly. It would further fuel concern about the SCAF’s intentions, further split the opposition, and antagonise the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which almost certainly would see this as an attempt to rob it of its expected strong showing. As for presidential elections, they should be moved up and held as soon as feasible.

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via Al Masry Al Youm

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The truce between protesters and police in Mohamed Mahmoud street is reportedly over. Associate Press reporter Hadeel Al Shalchi tweets there are bonfires in the street and clouds of tear gas are hanging over the area.

@ liamstack : I cannot believe the ceasefire just ended that way. No idea where this goes from here. #tahrir #egypt

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Al Masry Al Youm reports the United Nations Human Rights Chief called for an investigation into the death of portesters on Egypt's Tahrir square.

"I urge the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay according to the newspaper.

"There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured," she added.

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A great set of photos from the protests yesterday in Tahrir Square by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Check them out here.

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@ AlArabiya_Eng : Egyptian troops deployed around the Interior Ministry in Cairo, replacing riot police #Tahrir

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@ TamerELG : On sale in #Tahrir: candied apples! In addition 2 almost anything else u can think of. Carnival atmosphere. Fighting continues on outskirts

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There appears to be a cease fire in place between protesters and security forces in Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Mohamed Mahmoud has seen the worst clashes in the past days.

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@ FRANCE24 : RT @FrancoisF24: #Tahrir Smoke by AUC library near interior min. Tear gas aimed at youths on rooftop.

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The death toll in Egypt's clashes has risen to 37, Reuters writes. The Egyptian Health Ministry earlier said 32 people had been killed in the protests so far. 2,000 have been wounded.

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Clashes in Egypt on Wednesday center around the Interior Ministry, the Associated Press reports. Police and army troops are using tear gas and rubble bullets to keep protesters from storming th ebuilding.

The protesters say they have no wish to storm the ministry but were preventing the police and army from evicting them from Tahrir by pinning them down a safe distance away from the massive plaza.

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A building of the American University in Cairo is reportedly on fire.

@ ianinegypt : To clarify the old AUC building on fire is at the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud and Falaky. #egypt #tahrir

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@ kristenchick : Fireworks amid the tear gas on Mohamed Mahmoud St just now, outside AUC

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Nobel Peace Prize winner and Egyptian political leader Mohamed ElBaradei called the tear gas attack on Tahrir Square "a massacre" on twitter.

@ ElBaradei : Tear gas with nerve agent & live ammunition being used against civilians in Tahrir. A massacre is taking place

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@ sharifkouddous : Tear gas just hit the square forcing people to rush in all directions. Was on 9th floor balcony and was unbearable even here.

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Al Masry Al Youm uploaded this video on fighting earlier today in the streets near Tahrir Square.

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Twitter is exploding with tweets about tear gas in Tahrir. A lot of people are running from the square, through the streets.

Photo from tear gas on Bab el Louq Square, via @moftasa

Tear gas saturating bab el louq square. الغاز يشبع.      #tah... on Twitpic

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Reuters' reports from earlier today. Footage shows Mohamed Mahmoud street, a crucial road connecting Tahrir Square and the ministry of the interior.

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