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Police arrested protesters in Tahrir Square and the roads leading to the U.S. Embassy early Saturday morning after days of protests over a video depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed as ruthless and a womanizer. Eyewitnesses claim that people were beaten and detained during the crackdown.
Traffic is flowing normally through the square again. However, security forces remain around entrances to the square. The arrests come a day after worldwide protests sparked by anger over the controversial video allegedly made by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula under the pseudonym Sam Bacile.
Friday’s nationwide demonstration was canceled by the Muslim Brotherhood, but protesters said they were still holding a ‘symbolic’ protest in Tahrir. Protests in Tahrir were mostly peaceful. About 1,000-1,200 protesters moved around the square chanting slogans and waving flags. Vendors sold drinks, T-shirts, flags and souvenirs. Anyone could pick up a small pyramid or Sphinx along with a black flag (not to be confused with an Al-Qaida flag).
One protester said he was there because he was angry about the video and about the United State’s response to the film, asking, “Why hasn’t the man been arrested?”
Protests in front of the U.S. Embassy near the square sporadically clashed with security forces. According to reports, the protesters threw stones, while security responded with tear gas. According to CNN, the Interior Ministry issued a statement that a number of security officers were injured, some from bird shot. Bird shot was blamed for the death of one protester on Friday.
Friday’s protests mainly targeted U.S. embassies. However, the German and British embassies were attacked in Khartoum and a Hardee’s and KFC were attacked in Tripoli. Seven people were killed during protests on Friday.
Many analysts and journalists who have extensively covered the region say the protests were about more than the video. According to some analysts, the protests have to do with pent-up anger over western imperialism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continued drone strikes, the sanctions on Iran and pro-Israel policies. Other analysts add that it is also about the frustration at domestic leaders who have been unable to effect change quickly.
“It’s domestic politics mixed with an attempt to make new nation states and political systems and institutions that are so vital,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, told The Christian Science Monitor.
Another reason, say analysts, is that there is a struggle going on between mainstream Islamic groups and the ultra-conservative Salafis. The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes that the Salafi agitation began long before the video was released. They attacked secularists and artists, worked along sectarian lines and launched confrontations with Coptic Christians.
Image Courtesy of Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي