Egypt after Morsi
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|Edward Yeranian||January 25th 2014|
Egyptian officials say at least 29 people were killed in violence Saturday along the fringes of celebrations marking the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Both supporters and opponents of Egypt's interim government clashed on side streets leading to Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, waving clubs and hurling rocks and bottles at each other.
Government officials say fatalities occurred at anti-government protests that coincided with government sanctioned celebrations that were staged to show support for the current military-installed leadership.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, thousands of pro-government supporters flooded Tahrir Square, chanting and waving flags and posters as they pledged support for General Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, Egypt's current defense minister and de facto leader, whom supporters are urging to run for president. Egypt's interim government has hinted several times in recent weeks that presidential elections will take place later this year before parliamentary elections.
Former parliamentarian Mustafa Bakri, a fervent Sissi supporter who addressed the enthusiastic crowd of ululating women and young men beating drums, insisted that the "people, the police and the army were now united in victory." He went on to claim that "traitors and criminals" were "plotting to destroy the country," and that the "U.S. wants turmoil" in Egypt and the Arab world.
Government supporters repelled several attempts by Morsi supporters to march into the square, as helicopters flew overhead, dropping small Egyptian flags into the crowd.
Egyptian security forces fired tear gas on small clusters of unruly Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo's Mohandessin district, where supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi chanted slogans against the government and el-Sissi. Sky News Arabia reports that more than 400 Morsi supporters were arrested. Similar unrest took place in other parts of the country.
As Saturday's ceremony got under way, a car bomb exploded near a security facility in the city of Suez. The force of the blast burst a water main, inundating a main street near security headquarters in the city. Al Arabiya TV reported that 18 people were wounded in the blast, which was some distance away from the building.
Earlier, a bomb exploded near a Cairo police academy. Both attacks come a day after at least 20 people and six policemen were killed in a series of explosions that rocked Cairo.
Asar Beit al-Maqdis, or Partisans for Jerusalem, an al-Qaida-inspired group in Egypt that derides the Brotherhood for lack of militancy, released a statement Saturday claiming responsibility for the Cairo. The statement also warned Muslims to stay away from police stations. The group has also claimed responsibility for a September 2013 bombing in Mansoura and other attacks, saying they were carried out to avenge the military-backed government's crackdown on Islamists.
Egyptian state television also reported that an army helicopter crashed in the Sinai, killing five soldiers on board. It was not immediately clear why chopper crashed. For months the army has been battling Islamist militants in the northern Sinai, where dozens of soldiers and police have been killed in the fighting and in terrorist attacks on government installations.
Egypt has been mired in political turmoil since July 3, when army General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected civilian president. Last year, the military-backed government of secularists and liberals that replaced Morsi also designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group following a bombing of security offices that killed 15 people.
More than 1,000 of Morsi supporters have been killed in a security crackdown following his removal from power. The security crackdown has been extended to secular-minded liberals, including ones who played a key role in the 2011 uprising. Human rights groups have accused the Egyptian authorities of quashing dissent and using excessive force, calling state violence since Morsi's ouster unprecedented.
Egypt's most prominent rights groups criticized the government for using the "purported aim of 'countering terrorism' as justification to commit arbitrary arrests and restrict freedoms."
Although the Brotherhood has been nearly crushed by the state, the group has a history of rebounding. "Their soft, non-ideological support from Egyptian society has collapsed but their most energized core remains more zealous than ever," said Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation in New York.
"The Brotherhood and its supporters are not something that can be swept aside easily they have a substantial and resilient core." Morsi came to power as Egypt's first democratically elected president after Hosni Mubarak stepped down under pressure nearly three years ago.
Separately, Libya's justice minister, Salah Mirghani, has apologized for the kidnapping of five Egyptian diplomats in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, by an Islamic militia. A militant from the group holding the diplomats has demanded that the Egyptian government release one of its members whom he claimed was "studying in the port city of Alexandria." Other reports said the man was a Libyan militia leader who had traveled to Alexandria to meet with local Islamic militants.
Edward Yeranian writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.