Egypt Clashes as Islamists Try to Galvanize Protests

Sunday, 06 Oct 2013 11:38 AM

 

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CAIRO — At least one person was killed when Islamists clashed with police in Egypt Sunday, as thousands turned out to fete the military on the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, overthrown by a military coup, had planned to converge on Tahrir Square in central Cairo, where the army held celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the conflict.

In central Cairo, policemen fired shots and tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters. AFP correspondents saw them arrest and beat several suspected demonstrators.

Almost three months after Morsi's overthrow, followed by a harsh crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement, the Islamists had planned to galvanize their protest movement in a symbolic attempt to reach Tahrir Square.

Hundreds of thousands of people had filled the square in February 2011 to force president Hosni Mubarak to resign, and again in July 2013 to urge the army to depose his successor Morsi.

But on Sunday, security forces guarded entrances to the square, frisking people arriving for the pro-army celebrations.

Several thousand people, some carrying pictures of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, waved Egyptian flags as warplanes flew overhead in formation and patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers.

Elsewhere in Cairo, the air was thick with tear gas and the crackle of gunfire as police confronted several marches on their way to Tahrir.

In Delga, an Islamist bastion south of Cairo, one person was killed when Islamists clashed with civilian opponents and police, a health ministry official and witnesses said.

Clashes also erupted in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya, a security official said.

For weeks authorities have been drumming up national fervor in state media, amid the worst political divisions in Egypt's recent history.

Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi urged Egyptians to unite, saying the country is on the road to recovery.

"As we go through these critical times all Egyptians should stand together, be confident and be optimistic about the future," he said in a televised address.

Morsi's opponents demonstrated in their millions in June and July to urge the army to remove him, accusing the Islamist of failing the revolution that brought him to the presidency and concentrating power in the hands of his allies.

His supporters decried his overthrow a year after his election in Egypt's first free polls as a violation of democratic principles.

Away from the main squares, Cairo's streets were largely deserted on Sunday, a public holiday to commemorate the October War, known as the Yom Kippur War in Israel.

The conflict, remembered proudly by the Egyptian army because it caught Israel by surprise, led to the recovery of the Sinai Peninsula in a 1979 peace treaty.

The interior ministry had warned it would "firmly confront" any violence or attempts to disturb Sunday's celebrations, state news agency MENA reported.

Attempts by Islamists to reach Tahrir on Friday sparked clashes with Morsi opponents and security forces that killed four people.

Morsi opponents began gathering at Tahrir late on Saturday chanting pro-military slogans, an AFP correspondent reported.

Authorities deployed several armored vehicles and installed metal detectors at two entrances, sealing off all other entrances.

Analysts called the Islamists' call for protests a high-risk attempt to strip the current high command of the army's legacy and patriotic pride in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"They will try to show that the present army is not the army of all Egyptians, but only of those who backed the coup," Hassan Nafaa, political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP.

"But this message will not go down well."

The Anti-Coup Alliance group has repeatedly called for protests against Morsi's overthrow.

But its ability to mobilize large crowds has waned as security forces have arrested some 2,000 Islamists, including Morsi himself and several Brotherhood leaders.

Hundreds were killed on Aug. 14 when security forces moved in to destroy two large pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.

Islamists elsewhere in Egypt struck back, attacking police and torching churches and other Coptic Christian institutions.

The government has also been battling an insurgency in the Sinai, where militants have launched near-daily attacks on security targets.

 

© AFP 2014

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