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Police forcefully prevent public expression of anti-extremism opinions by cultural workers

(ANHRI/IFEX) - On 11 June 2008, police forces intervened to prevent the staging of a cultural event calling for patriotic unity and rejecting extremism. The gathering was organized by poets and intellectuals, and was to be held in Cairo's Talaat Harb Square. The police forces prevented the participants from reaching the square, threatening them with violence if they were to persist with their intentions.

The event programme involved the recitation of poetry and singing, as ways to condemn the acts of extremism and sectarian violence that occurred in Egypt in preceding weeks.

When the first group of participants, numbering no more than 80, exited the offices of Merit Publications, located near Talaat Harb Square, hundreds of police officers and thugs surrounded them. The pleadings of important cultural figures involved in the event - including the great poet Ahmad-Fouad Negm and George Ishaq, former leader of the coalition opposition group Kifaya (Enough) - could not convince the police to desist in their action. It was clear that the hundreds of thugs accompanying the police were ready to use violence against anyone who did not comply with police orders.

"We condemn what the security forces have done to us. They surrounded our group, forced us back to the office and surrounded the building, prohibiting anyone from entering or exiting. The movie director Magdi Ahmed managed to reach the office only after much difficulty," said Mohammed Hashem, the director of Merit Publications. "We have the right to express our opinion," he added.

"The thugs were harassing us and ready to beat us. Even one of the police officers, a General Maher, ordered them many times to stop harassing us, but it seemed they could not help but resort to their usual means of violence to prevent poets and intellectuals from expressing their opinion," said Gamal Eid, the executive director of ANHRI.

ANHRI lawyers who were in Talaat Harb Square observed dozens of police cars and hundreds of police officers in plain clothes harassing the would-be event participants and passers-by in the streets around the square, as if poetry and song represented a threat to Egyptian national security and had to be met with a military response.

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