Protesters clashed with police across Egypt yesterday – the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
This time though they were taking to the streets against Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president they accuse of betraying the 2011 revolution.
At least 91 civilians and 42 security officers were injured, police said. Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s party offices were set ablaze. Thousands of opponents of Mr Morsi and his party allies massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – cradle of the uprising against Mubarak – to revive the demands of a revolution they say has been hijacked by Islamists.
The anniversary highlighted the divide between the Islamists and secularists that is hindering Mr Morsi’s efforts to revive the economy by enticing back investors and tourists. The uprising was inspired by Tunisia’s and gave impetus to further revolts across the Arab world. But the common purpose of two years ago has since vanished, replaced last month by street battles.
“It’s tense on the ground, but so far there hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary or anything that really threatens to fundamentally alter the political situation,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre.
The Brotherhood decided against mobilising for the anniversary, wary after violence in December was stoked by Mr Morsi’s decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.The Brotherhood, however, fiercely denies claims of trampling on democracy.
Before dawn yesterday, police battled protesters, who threw petrol bombs and fireworks, as they tried to approach a wall blocking access to government buildings near Tahrir Square. Clouds of tear gas filled the air. At one point, riot police used one of the incendiaries thrown at them to torch at least two tents erected by the youths.
Skirmishes continued near the square with ambulances ferrying away a steady stream of casualties. “Our revolution is continuing. We reject the domination of any party over this state. We say no to the Brotherhood state,” Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist leader, said.
There were similar scenes in Suez and Alexandria, where there were clashes near local government offices as black smoke billowed from tyres set alight by youths.
Police also fired tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters who tried to scale barbed-wire barriers protecting the presidential palace in Cairo. Other protesters broke into the offices of provincial governors in Ismailia, east of Cairo, and Kafr el-Sheikh in the Nile Delta.
In Tahrir Square, protesters echoed the chants of 2011’s 18-day uprising. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they shouted. “Leave! Leave! Leave!” chanted others marching to the square. “We are not here to celebrate but to force those in power to submit to the will of the people. Egypt now must never be like Egypt during Mubarak’s rule,” said activist Mohamed Fahmy.
With its eye firmly on forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood marked the anniversary with a charity drive to deliver medical aid to one million people and distribute affordable basic foodstuffs.
Writing in state-run daily Al-Ahram, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said Egypt was in need of “practical, serious competition” to reform the corrupt state left by the Mubarak era.
“The differences of opinion and vision that Egypt is passing through is a characteristic of transitions from dictatorship to democracy,” he wrote.
Nonetheless, Mr Morsi faces discontent on multiple fronts.
His opponents say he and the Islamists are seeking to dominate and accuse him of showing some of Mubarak’s autocratic impulses. The Brotherhood dismisses many of the criticisms as slurs, accusing them of failing to respect the new democracy that put the Islamists in the charge.