VIOLENCE FLARES ON ANNIVERSARY OF EGYPT UPRISING
By Melanie Lidman, JPost Correspondent
Widespread anger at Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt ahead of 2-year anniversary of popular revolution; Health Ministry says 16 hurt.
CAIRO – Hundreds of youths clashed with Egyptian police in Tahrir Square on Friday in a violent start to the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and led to the election of an Islamist President who is now the focus of protester rage.
Opponents of President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies are expected to mass in Tahrir Square later on Friday to revive the demands of a revolution that they say has been betrayed by the Islamists.
The square was calm by daybreak, following early morning battles between police and protesters who threw petrol bombs and firecrackers as they tried to approach a wall blocking access to government buildings near the square. Plumes of teargas fired by the police filled the air.
The Health Ministry said 16 people had been wounded. 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.
Exactly one year ago, Tahrir Square exploded with protests, a popular revolution over 18 days that swept President Hosni Mubarak out of power after 30 years.
On Thursday, Tahrir Square hummed with a nervous energy. Hundreds of people milled around, sometimes spontaneously breaking out in chants, arguing politics and visiting the recently erected Revolution Museum in the middle of the square.
Protesters preparing for Friday’s anniversary were seething with anger at the Muslim Brotherhood.
Using the same heated language as two years ago, they slammed the ruling political party and President Mohamed Morsi, which, they say, have plunged the country into a terrible economic depression.
“People hate the Muslim Brotherhood and they hate the system,” said Tony S., an activist with a youth union, who will oversee the main protest stage on Friday.
“We need to complete our revolution, not make a festival,” he added. “For one year we were against the army, now we are against the Muslim Brotherhood. Everyone is against the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, pointing to a scar on his lip that he says is from a knife fight with Brotherhood members in Tahrir last month.
“Revolution means change,” said Magdi, a veteran leader in the Building Egypt Activist group. “Why did we come out for freedom, liberty and justice if the President doesn’t follow the people? Morsi is only following his party, the Muslim Brotherhood.
“That’s why the people will come out tomorrow. We’re not going to wait four years until the end of Morsi’s term without freedom and democracy. If we wait four years, we’re going to stay 100 years without freedom and democracy,” Magdi said.
“We came out against Mubarak; we can come out against Morsi. The people in Egypt are not scared anymore.”
At the plastic tents of the Revolution Museum, which feature photos of protesters killed in clashes, articles, protest signs, flags and memorabilia, visitors can only enter by stepping on a giant picture of Morsi, a serious insult in Arab culture. Most stomp on his picture with gusto.
A man who owns a souvenir store, said inflation has exploded and the black market, which had laid low for a decade, is back with a vengeance, due to the instability.
“I was hoping it would get better, but now there is no safety. I cannot walk outside at night by myself,” he said at a coffee shop near Tahrir Square. Two women in head scarves joined in to express their disgust.
“They’re selling Islam,” says Lila. “People are attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood because they say ‘We’re Muslim,’ but they’re playing with religion, they never mean it.”
While anger at Morsi is widespread, Khaled, a medical student, warned that the country needs to be patient.
“I don’t like his policies, but I am for the President,” he said.
“He has only had seven months, we need more time.”
Khaled said the protesters are now more vocal but much fewer in number, and he doubts that calls for Morsi’s resignation will have any impact.
On Thursday, Egyptian riot police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters who clashed with police as they tried to tear down a cement wall built to prevent demonstrators from reaching the parliament and cabinet building, according to the AP.
Major opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei posted an online video message urging people to come to the protest.
“I demand from each one of you, all across Egypt, to prove that the revolution must continue and must be completed,” he said in the message.
The Muslim Brotherhood has promised that its members will not attend the demonstrations during Friday’s anniversary, ostensibly to avoid violence, though many protesters doubt they will stay away. The Brotherhood announced that it would renovate 2,000 schools, plant trees and deliver medical aid as part of their charity efforts to win over poor voters.
The greater possibility for violence is on Saturday, when the final verdict is to be delivered for the suspects in the February 1, 2012, Port Said Stadium massacre, when 79 people died in riots at a soccer pitch. Eyewitnesses said police did nothing to stop the melee that broke out between rival soccer teams and even refused to open the doors to allow people to escape. The massacre was held up as proof of the country’s slide toward anarchy.
If the suspects receive light sentences, the ultras, soccer hooligans who are often at the head of protest marches and responsible for much of the violence at Egypt’s recent protests, have promised to destroy and burn buildings in Cairo, according to Internet posts by various factions.