CAIRO — Seven people were killed during anti-government marches on Saturday while thousands rallied in support of the army-led authorities, underlining Egypt's volatile political fissures three years after the fall of autocrat president Hosni Mubarak.
Security forces lobbed teargas and fired in the air to try to prevent demonstrators opposed to the government from reaching Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled the former air force commander.
Instead of commemorating Mubarak's overthrow, a large number of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir to pledge their support for the army chief who ousted the country's first freely-elected president last year.
The chanting for General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi underscored the prevailing desire for a decisive military man they count on to end the political turmoil that has gripped Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution and crippled the economy.
But an end to street violence seemed nowhere in sight with the sound of tear gas canisters being fired echoing through downtown Cairo as police confronted anti-government protesters.
Four protesters were killed in different parts of the capital, where armored personnel carriers were deployed to try and keep order and anyone entering Tahrir had to pass through a metal detector.
In the southern town of Minya, two people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and security forces, said Brigadier General Hisham Nasr, director of criminal investigations in the regional police department.
A woman was killed in Egypt's second city of Alexandria during clashes between supporters of Morsi and security forces.
Just a day earlier, violence spread through Egypt in clashes that killed at least 20 people.
A car bomb at the Cairo police headquarters killed four people and wounded dozens, and three other explosions around the city left two more dead. The militant Islamist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility and said Egyptians celebrating today will also be targets for attack, according to the state-run Ahram Gate website. A bomb exploded today near a police training center in eastern Cairo, while a second device in a car was defused, according to Ahram online. There were no injuries.
The violence exposes divisions that emerged after Mubarak’s fall and have deepened since the military intervention in July. The army-backed government that replaced Morsi says it is restoring democracy, while opponents say a new police state is emerging.
The Brotherhood, which rose to power with Morsi’s election, has been subject to a violent crackdown since his fall, with its leaders, including Morsi, on trial and hundreds of supporters killed.
Amnesty International said this week that Egypt has seen “state violence on an unprecedented scale” since the army overthrew Morsi. The government says it’s the target of violence, pointing to the wave of militant attacks, which were initially concentrated in the Sinai peninsula and have spread to urban centers including Cairo.
The presidency condemned Friday's bombings in an e- mailed statement, saying they would unite Egyptians behind the goals of the revolts that toppled Mubarak and Morsi. Authorities won’t hesitate to take any “necessary extraordinary measures to protect the nation,” it said.
About 260,000 police backed by armored vehicles will be deployed, according to the official Middle East News Agency.
The government has blamed the Brotherhood for attacks, and designated the group a terrorist organization last month. The Brotherhood says it’s committed to peaceful protests to overturn what calls the coup against Morsi.
The unrest has left Egypt’s economy growing at the slowest pace in two decades, even though stocks and bonds have rebounded since the army intervention. Grievances over jobs and prices that helped fuel the 2011 demonstrations are still widespread.
Government officials say last week’s referendum, which approved a new constitution, is the first step back to democracy. It’s due to be followed by presidential elections later this year.
Looming over today’s anniversary is the question of whether Defense Minister Abdelfatah al-Seesi, who led the overthrow of Morsi, will run for president. He’s a hero for many Egyptians seeking stability after years of political unrest and economic stagnation. Critics say that his intervention has revived some of the worst aspects of the Mubarak era.
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