Cairo: Hundreds of youths fought Egyptian police in Cairo on Friday on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought the election of an Islamist president who protesters accuse of riding roughshod over the new democracy.
The January 25 anniversary showcased the divide between the Islamists and secular foes hindering President Mohammad Mursi’s efforts to get a stagnant economy moving, and reverse a plunge in Egypt’s currency, by attracting back investors and tourists.
Inspired by Tunisia’s ground-breaking popular uprising, Egypt’s revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that has only worsened and last month triggered lethal street battles.
Opponents of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies began massing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to revive the demands of a revolution they say has been betrayed by Islamists.
Police battled hardcore protesters who threw petrol bombs and firecrackers as they tried to approach a wall blocking access to government buildings near the square in the early hours of the morning.
Clouds of tear gas fired by police filled the air. At one point, riot police used one of the incendiaries thrown at them to set ablaze at least two tents erected by the youths, a Reuters witness said. Clashes between stone-throwing youths and the police continued in streets near the square into the day.
Ambulances ferried away a steady stream of casualties. The health ministry said 25 people had been injured since Thursday in clashes around Tahrir Square.
Some protesters pledged to march to Mursi’s palace.
Thousands more protested against the Brotherhood in cities across Egypt including Suez, Esmailia, Port Said and Alexandria.
The Brotherhood decided against mobilising in the street for the anniversary, wary of the scope for more conflict after violence in December that was fuelled by Mursi’s campaign to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” declared banners in the square, echoing the main Arab Spring slogan of 2011. “Save Egypt from the rule of the Supreme Guide,” said another, a reference to leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad Badie.
Mursi, in a speech on Thursday, called on Egyptians to mark the anniversary “in a civilised, peaceful way that safeguards our nation, our institutions, our lives”.
“The Brotherhood is very concerned about escalation, that’s why they have tried to dial down their role on January 25,” said Shadi Hamid director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
“There may very well be the kinds of clashes that we’ve seen before, but I don’t see anything major happening that is going to fundamentally change the political situation,” he said.