By Amena Bakr / Reuters
DAVOS, Switzerland: Human Rights Watch (HRW) fears that Egypt’s army may open fire on protesters during demonstrations planned for Friday, the head of the New-York based group said on Thursday.
Police in Cairo have already fought thousands of Egyptians who defied a government ban on Wednesday to protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old rule, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the crowds and dragging away demonstrators.
“We are enormously fearful that the army would increase violence against protesters in Egypt, because the army there is more ruthless and much larger than the one in Tunisia,” HRW chief Kenneth Roth told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in this Swiss ski resort.
“They may decide to open fire during protests,” he added.
“So far we have records of 1,000 people being arrested and the violence from the police was also against journalists and foreign media, not just Egyptian protesters, and the government did say that there will be zero tolerance to protests.”
A revolt in Tunisia which preceded the Egyptian unrest prompted questions about the stability of other authoritarian Arab governments and depressed stock, bond and foreign exchange prices in parts of the region, notably in Egypt.
The unrest in the Middle East has been a hot topic at the Davos Forum, with some of the speakers making a link between violence and high levels of youth unemployment and surging world food and fuel prices.
On Wednesday, the United States bluntly urged Mubarak to make political reforms in the face of protesters demanding his ouster, in a shift in tone toward an important Arab ally.
“We have long opposed the authoritarian government in Egypt and we are pleased with the shift of tone taken by the United States, and the key now is of other governments to express their concern about what’s happening,” Roth added.