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Egyptians march Friday for victory, apology

Egypt's political upheaval has been followed by an unprecedented breakdown of security, with few police on the streets and the army unable to fill the vacuum.
Image: Stones used by anti-government demonstra
Stones used by Egyptian anti-government demonstrators during the uprising that ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years are seen Thursday on a pavement at Cairo's Tahrir square.Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Egyptian pro-democracy leaders plan a "victory march" in Cairo on Friday to celebrate the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule last week, and perhaps remind the military of the power of the street. Other plan to march in apology to the ousted leader.

The Higher Military Council which took over last week is under pressure from activists demanding the release of political prisoners, the lifting of emergency rule and fair elections soon.

Life in Egypt is still far from normal and security is shaky almost a week after the popular revolt focused on Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, with tanks on the streets, banks closed, workers on strike and schools shut. Families in quiet Cairo suburbs are investing heavily in locks and steel doors.

"Tomorrow will be a million people march to protect the revolution and its demands," Mohanned tweeted.

The march comes amid other developments Thursday in Egypt:

Ex-ministers arrested: Former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and two other ex-ministers who are under investigation for corruption were detained, security officials said.

Authorities also arrested steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, once a prominent member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

El-Adly, whose job gave him control over the 500,000-strong security forces, has been widely blamed for the deadly brutality used by riot police against demonstrators. El-Adly's arrest followed the detention earlier Thursday of former Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi, ex-Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana and Ezz.

All four face allegations that range from money laundering to abuse of authority and squandering state wealth.

More troops in Sinai: The Egyptian army has deployed hundreds of additional soldiers to the northern Sinai Peninsula to guard a pipeline that carries natural gas to Israel, Egyptian security officials said Thursday.

An Israeli defense official said Jerusalem had agreed to the deployment, which followed a Feb. 5 explosion at a gas terminal in the area that disrupted the flow of gas to Israel and Jordan. Security officials said a bomb had caused the blast at the el-Arish terminal, while Egypt’s natural gas company said it had been caused by a gas leak.

The troop deployment is in addition to the roughly 800 troops Israel agreed to let Egypt move to north Sinai in late January for the first time since the countries made peace three decades ago. Under the 1979 peace treaty, Israel returned the captured Sinai to Egypt, and in return, Egypt agreed to leave the area demilitarized.

On the march
On Friday, anti-Mubarak and pro-Mubarak forces plan to take to the streets.

"We will welcome everyone to the new Egypt. A new country that started in Tahrir square. A country of unity, peace, freedom and justice for all," Laila said on Facebook.

A simultaneous demonstration will "apologize" to Mubarak for the way he was ousted and recognize his achievements in almost 30 years in power. Organizers said the Mubarak sympathizers would wear black, with the victory marchers in white.

The marches, starting in different parts of Cairo, were expected to gather momentum after midday prayers. Demonstrations were also likely in the port of Alexandria.

Security breakdown
Egypt's political upheaval has been followed by an unprecedented breakdown of security, with few police on the streets and the army unable to fill the vacuum.

However, the army is sending more troops to the Sinai and three high-level former officials have been arrested.

Some Egyptians who have just seen their longtime authoritarian ruler Mubarak overthrown by a popular uprising are already nostalgic for his police state.

Though hated by Egyptians for their heavy handedness and rampant corruption, security forces kept the country relatively safe. That was the case before they mysteriously disappeared from the streets Jan. 28 following deadly clashes with protesters whose massive anti-government demonstrations forced Mubarak to step down.

About 50 percent of the police force nationwide is now back on the streets and security officials speak of at least another two months before the force could be back in its full strength. Another problem, they say, is that the police have been demoralized by the tidal wave of resentment they now face over their brutality in confronting the protesters.

In the early days of the uprising, neighborhood protection committees were set up across the nation in response to the lawlessness. Youths armed themselves with knifes, baseball bats, golf clubs and hunting rifles and manned checkpoints to protect property. But the committees have mostly vanished now and the police are back on the streets, though below their normal numbers.

Egypt has not experienced such a total collapse of law and order since 1986, when police conscripts went on a rampage for several days, looting and setting property ablaze before the army quelled their revolt.

For days after the initial outbreak of looting and arson, families in remote suburbs stayed home, stacked up furniture behind doors and hurriedly commissioned steel doors and windows. Many go to sleep with a large kitchen knife or a gun on their bedside tables. Others take turns sleeping so at least one family member is awake to sound the alarm if intruders come into the house.

Stores sold out of locks and bolts within days and the price of firearms in licensed stores skyrocketed in the face of increased demand.

In a neighborhood in Giza, a province that partially belongs to Cairo, residents worried about their property and personal safety were handed firearms by the local police station if they left their identity cards as insurance. In parts of the country, the security vacuum was taken advantage of by groups with a grudge against the police or the local officials of the hated state security agency.

Joining with Islamists
The Bedouins of northern Sinai are a case in point.

The area is home to Bedouin tribes who resist government control, and officials there say tribesmen have joined forces with Islamic militants, some of whom escaped from prisons during the uprising. Armed groups have bombed the state security building in Rafah on the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and set fire to police stations.

Security and hospital officials say about 35 people have been killed in clashes between the two sides, about two-thirds of them police, since Jan. 25 when the anti-Mubarak protests began.

Mohammed Hassan, a 23-year-old dental student, got his Beretta pistol out of his safe when he heard rumors about the looting in his upscale Cairo neighborhood. He gave it to his 25-year-old sister when he stepped out to see what was going on in his neighborhood.

"I gave it to her because there were no police around," he said. "I was just worried, and my sister lives with me, and she was alone. I told her 'Just in case anything happens,' and showed her where the safety was, and how to take it off."