At least four people are killed and 18 others wounded as clashes break out in the capital and several cities across Egypt.
Muslim Brotherhood protesters force Egypt to block Tahrir Square
CAIRO // Egyptian police fired tear gas and locked down Tahrir Square and several other Cairo streets on Friday as brief clashes broke out in a rare push by Islamist protesters to take control of the square.
At least four people were killed and 18 others were wounded in the clashes, said Ahmed Al Ansari, head of Egypt’s ambulance services.
With lines of armoured vehicles and barbed wire, troops sealed off the square and diverted traffic after the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which ousted president Mohammed Morsi hails, called on its supporters to march there.
Thousands of Mr Morsi’s supporters followed suit from different parts in the city.
The Muslim Brotherhood called Tahrir Square “the heart of the revolution”. It is birthplace of the 2011 uprising that forced longtime president Hosni Mubarak from power and led to Mr Morsi’s short-lived tenure.
Since Mr Morsi’s ouster on July 3, nearly 2,000 Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested, its top leaders referred to courts over charges of inciting murder and violence. Mr Morsi is under arrest for charges including incitement to murder.
The Brotherhood appears to be angling to endure a crackdown that – while painful – also helps keep group cohesion under the pressure of a shared plight. It has publicly stuck to its most hardline demands – the reinstatement of Mr Morsi as president and the restoration of the Morsi-era constitution, which was widely criticised for alienating secular Egyptians.
Some Brotherhood members recognise the possibility for that has passed. But the group uses the demands to energise its members and keep up street pressure as leverage in any eventual negotiations, which could bring concessions like easing the crackdown or releasing jailed members.
In an attempt to turn October 6, a national holiday seen by Egyptians as a military victory in the 1973 war with Israel, into a milestone, the group called upon its supporters to converge into Tahrir Square in a show of force.
Protesters encircled security forces and army troops guarding the square from two main entrances, one near Egyptian museum and a second from the square’s southern edge. That prompted riot police to fire volleys of tear gas to send the demonstrators away.
All the way to Tahrir Square, the protesters’ chants against the military sparked clashes with civilians believed to be supporters of the military. Shots were fired and rocks were thrown.
Eight people were wounded in those clashes.
Protesters were pushed away by other Egyptians armed with sticks and bottles who chased them in the streets before the two sides started hurling stones just steps from the Egyptian museum.
“We will go protest and take all streets possible,” said Mohammed Said, 45, during a march from the Dokki neighbourhood to Tahrir. “We will get in Tahrir at any price.”
There was little sympathy for the protesters among bystanders in the area.
“The Muslim Brotherhood won’t be able to take the square. None of the people here stands with them,” said Ahmed Youssef, 59, a taxi driver. “I wish the state really enforces the state of emergency and outlaws all kinds of protests. We can’t live normally this way. Is this the way to democracy?”
Another rally ended at a defence ministry building and a second at Rabia Al Adawiyya mosque in eastern Cairo, where a pro-Morsi protest camp was violently dismantled on August 14. Troops backed with armoured vehicles beefed up security in the vicinity of the mosque, where protesters chanted slogans against the military.
Protesters flashed four fingers, their symbol in online and street campaigns for demonstrations.
Across the country, similar clashes broke out with police firing tear gas and gunshots in the air as residents and protesters clashed and threw stones at each other.
Earlier in the day, at least two Egyptian soldiers were killed in an attack by suspected militants on an army convoy east of Cairo.
* Associated Press