Hundreds of youths clashed with Egyptian police in Tahrir Square yesterday in a violent start to the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and led to the election of an Islamist president who is now the focus of protester rage.
Opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies were expected to mass in Tahrir Square later yesterday 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 molotov cocktails 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 Egyptian 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 witness said.
Inspired by Tunisia’s uprising against then-Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali two years ago, Egypt’s revolution helped set off more revolts in Libya and Syria. However, the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians at the time has given way to conflict that has grown only worse and last month triggered lethal street battles.
The anniversary is to once again showcase the divide between the Islamists and their secular opponents. The Brotherhood has decided against mobilizing in the street for the occasion, a decision that could reduce the likelihood of confrontation.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” banners in the square said.
Morsi, in a speech on Thursday marking the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, called on Egyptians to mark the anniversary “in a civilized, peaceful way that safeguards our nation, our institutions, our lives.”
“The Brotherhood is very concerned about escalation, that’s why they have tried to dial down their role on Jan. 25,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “There may very well be the kinds of clashes that we’ve seen before, but I don’t see anything major happening that is going to fundamentally change the political situation.”
Morsi faces discontent on multiple fronts.
His opponents say he and his group are seeking to dominate the post-Mubarak order. They accuse him of showing some of the autocratic impulses of the deposed leader by, for example, driving through a controversial new constitution last month.
The Brotherhood dismisses such criticism as unfair. It accuses its opponents of failing to respect the rules of the new democracy that put the Islamists in the driving seat by winning elections.
Six months into office, Morsi is also being held responsible for an economic crisis caused by two years of turmoil.
The parties that have called for yesterday’s protest list demands including a complete overhaul of the Islamist-tinged constitution that was fast-tracked into law by Morsi last month, a move that fuelled street violence.