Forty-nine dead in 24 hours of clashes on Egypt revolt anniversary
CAIRO - Reuters
A supporter of the Egyptian government flashes the sign for victory during clashes with Muslim Brotherhood supporters (background) in Cairo on Jan. 25. AFP photoAt least 49 people have been killed in 24 hours of clashes that erupted Jan. 25 during rival rallies marking the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolt, the health ministry said. In addition, 247 people were injured, the ministry said in a statement on Jan. 26.
The interior ministry said for its part that 1,079 people had been arrested during the demonstrations that came three years after the start of the uprising that forced long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak to quit.
The clashes broke out between protesters who support deposed president Mohamed Morsi and those backing the military, which ousted him in July after a single turbulent year in power.
Security forces lobbed teargas and some fired automatic weapons in the air to try to prevent demonstrators opposed to the government reaching Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled the former air force commander.
But the growing violence has not dented the popularity of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose ouster of Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first freely-elected president, plunged the country into turmoil.
Instead of commemorating Mubarak's overthrow, tens of thousand of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir to pledge their support for Sisi in an event stage-managed by the state.
An army marching band played, while vendors sold t-shirts with the general's image for five Egyptian pounds.
Huge banners and posters displayed Sisi in his trademark dark sunglasses at the rally. Some women kissed posters.
The core demands of the 2011 revolt - freedom and social justice - could only be heard in protests outside Tahrir, which were quickly muzzled by security forces.
Not far from Tahrir, police in black uniforms clutching assault rifles fired tear gas canisters in a clampdown on anti-government protesters lasting for about two hours.
Armoured personnel carriers were deployed to try and keep order, and anyone entering Tahrir had to pass through metal detectors.
The pressure prompted one alliance of liberals to call on their members to withdraw from the streets. But others gathered in central Cairo after nightfall to call for an end to the army-backed government. "Down with military rule," they chanted.
Sisi toppled Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July after mass protests against what critics called his mismanagement and increasingly arbitrary rule, triggering a confrontation with the veteran Islamist movement that has hit investment hard.
Sisi tipped to win presidency
The general, who served as head of military intelligence under Mubarak, is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency soon and is likely to win by a landslide in elections, expected within six months.
Several leading politicians have indicated they would not run for president if Sisi does, highlighting his dominance and the barren political landscape that has emerged since Mubarak's fall. The most vocal critics of the new order - the Brotherhood - have been largely driven underground.
The army congratulated Egyptians on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising and said it would help people build on the gains of what it calls the June 30 Revolution, a reference to the street unrest that prompted the army to oust Mursi.
Calls for execution of Brotherhood members
Such messages have wide appeal for people like Shadia Mohamed Ahmed, a veiled middle-aged woman holding a poster of Sisi in Tahrir. She said "criminals" who commit violent acts against Egypt should be "executed in a public square." The crowd around her called for the execution of Brotherhood members.
Tensions have been smouldering anew since a wave of deadly bombings killed six people in Cairo on Jan. 24. An al-Qaeda-inspired group, based in the lawless Sinai Peninsula, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE monitoring organisation.
In an audio message posted on militant websites, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Egyptian Muslims to focus on fighting what he called "an Americanised coup" staged by Sisi instead of battling the country's minority Christians.
The leader of the Coptic Christian church backed Sisi's military takeover.
Police fired live rounds in the air to disperse about 1,000 anti-government protesters in Cairo's Mohandiseen district and at two other marches in downtown.
Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested in Egypt's second city Alexandria, security sources said.
The Muslim Brotherhood says Sisi and his allies in the government have blood on their hands and accuse them of undermining democratic gains made since Mubarak's downfall.
Security forces have since waged a bloody crackdown in which at least 1,000 people have been killed and thousands of Islamists arrested, including virtually all top leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.