Protesters have clashed in the streets for a second day with police who fired tear gas and birdshot in Cairo, as a deadly soccer riot focused rising public anger over lawlessness and collapsing security a year after Egypt’s uprising.
Eight people have been killed and more than 1,500 injured in the latest bloodshed that followed a violent riot and stampede after a soccer game on Wednesday in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, Egypt, in which 74 people died.
Egyptians streamed out of Friday prayers in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and several Nile Delta cities, criticizing police and calling on the military rulers led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to step down.
On Cairo’s Tahrir Square — the heart of the uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak a year ago — protesters raised banners and pictures of those killed in Port Said and chanted: “The people want to execute the marshal.”
The police force, which for decades was associated with torture and corruption in the Mubarak regime, is now being criticized in the soccer stadium deaths — whether from a lack of control or, as some alleged, on purpose.
For many Egyptians, the security vacuum is not just a sign of incompetence, but part of the larger overall failure by the military council to steer the country through its turbulent transitional period. They also see selectivity in policing the streets.
Leading democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei said delays in reforming the security apparatus was itself “a crime against the nation,” adding that the current violence is the “price we pay for stumbling in the transitional period.”
The clashes in Cairo began on Thursday as the bodies of the dead soccer fans were returned to the capital for burial, and the violence escalated. Protesters converged on the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, which oversees police, throwing stones.
Police responded with tear gas and birdshot and protesters donned helmets and gas masks to battle their way through streets thick with smoke from tear gas and burning tires.
“I came because I’m trying to do anything to feel that I took part in getting people’s rights and voicing all that’s inside me,” said 20-year-old Ahmed Emad, who had two friends killed in Port Said. “If I sit at home, I will explode after all I’ve seen.”
The death toll from the clashes with security forces rose to eight yesterday. That figure included a security officer in Cairo, according to the official MENA news agency.
One protester in Cairo was killed after being hit by birdshot at close range, a volunteer doctor said on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal.
Four protesters died in Suez after police opened fire on a crowd of about 3,000 demonstrators in front of police headquarters, local health officials said. A third protester in Suez was in critical condition with a wound to the neck.
The Port Said soccer riot began when fans of the home team, al-Masry, stormed the field after their club defeated al-Ahly, one of Cairo’s top teams. Police in black uniforms and riot gear were seen in television video broadcast nationwide standing by and largely doing nothing amid the chaos.
The bloodshed — the worst in the soccer world in 15 years — enraged protesters who were already frustrated with the slow pace of reform by the military leaders.