Sporadic clashes between security forces and protesters punctuated the second anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, with President Mohamed Mursi’s opponents massing against an Islamist they say has failed to fulfill the revolution’s goals.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians, led by youth groups and secular activists, protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square under a haze of tear gas, while demonstrators in coastal Alexandria hurled rocks at police, who who also responded with tear gas.
Clashes continued into the evening, and the scene was mirrored in cities including Suez and Ismailiya. At least seven Egyptians died and 476 were injured during clashes between protesters and security forces across the country, the health ministry said in a statement.
Chants of “leave, leave,” and “the people want the fall of the regime” rang out in various cities, a reminder of the calls at the start of the movement that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power. In the two years since, Mursi’s critics say he has focused on cementing the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power instead of reviving the economy, improving living conditions and cracking down on corruption and police brutality.
“The revolution has been hijacked,” and Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood “are enemies of women’s rights,” said Bothaina Kamel, 50, an activist who joined a march from Cairo’s Shoubra neighborhood.
Mursi, narrowly elected in June in a runoff against Mubarak’s last premier, has fueled discontent by issuing decrees that temporarily expanded his powers and pushing through ratification of an Islamist-drafted constitution.
Against a backdrop of unrest, Mursi has struggled to right an economy growing at the slowest pace for two decades in the two years since the revolution, as tourists and investors stayed away. Authorities are battling to defend the pound, which has plunged 7 percent in the past month. The central bank has spent about 60 percent of its foreign reserves since the start of 2011. The budget deficit exceeded 11 percent of economic output last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The government is in talks with the IMF on a $4.8 billion loan that officials say will boost investor confidence and unlock more funds, though negotiations have repeatedly stalled amid political bickering. An IMF delegation will arrive within two weeks to “finalize” the deal, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said Jan. 24.
“Egypt is facing a vicious cycle, with rising unemployment levels and socio-economic deprivation breeding yet more instability that prevents economic recovery,” Oliver Coleman, an analyst at U.K.-based risk-advisory firm Maplecroft, said by e-mail in response to questions.
At yesterday’s rally, Fathi Mohamed, a 46-year-old electrician, said he was there because “we still haven’t gotten our rights: bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity.”
“We didn’t revolt against Mubarak to end up with Mursi, whose ways are even worse than Mubarak’s,” he said. “The Brotherhood is now everywhere in the state.”
Ahmed Sobea, a media adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said it was too early to judge Mursi’s performance, especially given the challenges he inherited. He urged the opposition to propose solutions and not put up obstacles.
“Most of those who take to the streets on Jan. 25 will aim for the day to be peaceful, but the fear is that some might want to sow chaos, thinking this would be reproducing the revolution or could lead to the departure of the president,” he said.
Islamist groups have said they will steer clear of demonstrations to avert possible clashes with protesters. Even so, the fight came to them, with the Freedom and Justice Party’s office coming under attack in the Beheira governorate, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported.
In Cairo, roadblocks and coils of barbed wire surrounded Mursi’s palace. “Your walls will not protect you from the revolutionaries,” read a slogan scrawled on a makeshift concrete barrier.
Additional challenges came from soccer fans known as Ultras who have been holding demonstrations, gearing up for a possible court ruling today over the Port Said stadium riots last year that left dozens dead. Ultras marched into Tahrir Square yesterday, chanting: “We’ll teach them manners, we’ll show them rage.”
Several thousand people massed in front of the main television and radio building in Cairo, chanting against Mursi and hurling rocks. Hundreds more blocked the tracks of Cairo metro trains in the downtown area, halting service on the line.
In Suez, protesters using Molotov cocktails set fire to the administrative prosecutor’s building adjacent to the Suez governorate office, according to an e-mail from security officials.
At least 95 Egyptian security personnel were injured in clashes with protesters, the country’s interior ministry said in a statement.
On his Facebook page, Mursi posted a statement offering his condolences to the Egyptian people over the casualties in the clashes and said that the government will bring those responsible to justice.
The opposition has sought to overcome internal differences in recent months and present a united front to what they say are authoritarian tendencies on the part of Mursi and the Brotherhood.
That will be tested in legislative elections in coming months. The opposition’s campaign against a constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel failed to prevent the charter’s approval in a December referendum vote.
Some of the protesters against Mursi described yesterday’s rallies as an effort to hold the president accountable, not topple him.
“Despite all the negatives, he is an elected president,” said Sara Yehia, a 24-year-old researcher. “We must be more focused on goals, including pursuing the Interior Ministry, and not rush to demand a change of the regime every time something goes wrong.”