Supporters of Egypt’s former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military on 3 July, staged marches across the capital as officially organised celebrations were held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war.
At least 200 pro-Morsi protesters were reportedly arrested as mass demonstrations were staged in the Egyptian capital. International journalists were also detained.
Security forces used tear gas, birdshot and fired into the air to disperse marches on entrance routes to Tahrir Square, where pro-Morsi supporters had attempted to converge in opposition to the military-led festivities taking place there. Street battles raged for hours as black smoke rose into the air from parts of central Cairo.
The demonstrations were the biggest show of opposition to the Egyptian administration since hundreds were killed when pro-Morsi sit-ins were cleared on 14 August.
Thousands of supporters of the armed forces gathered in Tahrir Square as military jets and helicopters performed regular fly-pasts to cheers and applause from the crowds. Security was tight, with army and police checkpoints and metal detectors at all entrances. There, protesters remained fiercely opposed to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has characterised as a terrorist group. Many carried posters of defence chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is frequently touted as Egypt’s next president. “We’re here to tell all the other countries that both Muslim and Christian from all the Arab nations are one against the terrorists,” said one man who gave his name as Arif Muhammad.
Another, Mahmoud Abdul Aziz, said: “We’re here to celebrate all Egyptian people. All of Egypt will be here or in another square. Not the Muslim Brotherhood, of course. But they are not Egyptian.”
The mood was celebratory, though fiercely nationalistic, with shouts of “Death to Obama” and “Death to Israel”. Drums, whistles and patriotic chants sounded into the evening.
In a televised speech on Saturday, Egypt’s interim-president, Adly Mansour, had called on Egyptians to gather in squares across the country to celebrate their victory in the 6 October war and voice their support for the Egyptian Army. It was the second such appeal since Mr Morsi’s ousting. On 26 July Gen al-Sisi called for Egyptians to take to the streets to support the armed forces.
Thousands of protesters brandishing the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance banners gathered in different spots in Cairo, before marching towards Tahrir. The rallies were initially festive, but quickly turned violent when security forces attempted to prevent protesters from reaching the square.
The vast majority of attendees were supporters of the ousted president. “We’re pro-Morsi, but we want democracy and liberty,” said Rashad Hassan, a demonstrator from Giza. Others were secular, however. “We’re liberals, Christians, Islam, Marxists all together and we’re all anti-coup” said one woman, who declined to give her name.
Violence seemed likely from the start of the weekend. Egypt’s interior ministry issued a statement on Saturday warning that any attempts by protesters to intrude on the anniversary celebrations would be met with a “decisive response”. Authorities also warned that anti-government protesters would be treated as agents of foreign powers.
Four more pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators were killed and many more were injured in daytime clashes on Friday ahead of the 7pm curfew.