Monday’s papers: Maspiro violence tipping the scale to complete lawlessness?

A night of violence between unknown assailants and Coptic protesters in front of the Egyptian state television building, Maspiro, from Saturday night until Sunday morning had the country on its toes regarding the brimming sectarian tension.

But it is starting to seem that newspapers are purposefully keeping away from criticizing the military – a post-revolutionary “free press” is under threat.

The armed forces, along with police, have so far made many arrests in connection with the violence, which independent Al-Dostour says was between Coptic protesters and others who wanted the road reopened. The clashes began with rock throwing, followed by Molotov cocktails, and eventually, gunshots. Seventy-eight were injured.

Independent Al-Shorouk cites a report by the government saying that those who attacked the protesters were upset that the protesters would not let them through on their motorcycles without searching them. They apparently came back with armed thugs in retaliation. Police also blame a tea salesman who helped add fuel to the fire by spreading rumors to infuriate extremist Muslims and incite them against the protesters.

Newspapers somehow received different estimates of the numbers of arrests. Al-Shorouk says that 16 were arrested during the clashes –  eight Muslims and eight Christians – and are being investigated. Al-Dostour and Al-Wafd say 55 were arrested.  Al-Wafd calls the area where the fighting happened a "battlefield" and says 11 cars were burned.

Protesters are still at Maspiro and unwilling to move until a variety of demands are met. State-owned Al-Ahram says that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is taking steps in that direction by ordering 16 churches reopened. Al-Ahram – which is sometimes a little over the top with its brown-nosing to authorities in power – adds that some of the priests thanked the military for their role in maintaining order. 

State-owned Al-Akhbar neglects the news altogether on its front page. Further in, however, they mention that Pope Shenouda III called on the Copts at Maspiro to disperse, saying, “You will be the losers if you continue the protests." Al-Shorouk quotes church sources as saying the Coptic Church is upset as some religious rites were performed at the protests, outside of church, and that the protesters are preparing for “death or martyrdom.”  Al-Dostour says that the Maspiro area is secure now after the arrival of military and police reinforcements.

Lawlessness in Cairo is on everyone’s mind, and the Coalition of Police Officers, according to Al-Shorouk, said that they have not been present on the streets due to orders from superiors. The spokesman for the group, however, later told other media outlets that these statements were inaccurate.

Al-Akhbar dedicates its front page to the second-most important news of the day, the desire by some to protest the 63rd anniversary of the 1948 creation of Israel by marching to the Israeli borders. While Egyptian protesters at the border were unharmed, Israeli soldiers opened fire and killed many protesters in Gaza, Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

Al-Shorouk says that this is largest pro-Palestinian Arab mobilization. “There are traits of a third intifada,” the paper reads. 

Sticking with the theme of Arab nationalism, Al-Shorouk mentions the appointment of former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil al-Araby as secretary general of the Arab League, after previous candidate Mostafa al-Fiqqi was snubbed. At the time of press, almost all papers were buzzing with this news and the fact that Qatar withdrew its nominee.

Al-Dostour unnecessarily includes a large headline stating “Mubarak is not dead,” responding to a rumor that it independently decided was spreading across the country. All the papers reported however, that Suzanne Mubarak underwent a catheterization procedure after being hospitalized for her 15-day detention period while being investigated for corruption. A doctor told Al-Ahram that the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital is fully equipped for open heart surgery if needed. Al-Wafd says that the reason the Interior Ministry were preparing to transport Suzanne to the Qanater prison was that the interior minister reportedly told them she was in good health. 

In the corruption cases, Al-Akhbar reports that Gamal and Alaa together received around LE250 million in interest alone from their investments overseas. 

There seems to only be bad economic news these days. A more prominent headline in Al-Dostour reads, “Egypt’s security and economic collapse.” The paper's second headline talks about the shortage in fuel gas, which many truck drivers use. According to Al-Shorouk, there’s a 30 percent shortage. While the shortage is seasonal, it is made worse by the economic situation and the fact that some “remnants of the old regime” have an interest in spreading chaos. Industry and transportation are both being affected by the shortage, according to Al-Wafd, with areas coming to a standstill in the worst cases, and at best increasing transportation costs in minibuses and such.

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