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Photo by: Melanie Lidman
Violence mars anniversary of January 25 Revolution
By MELANIE LIDMAN
26/01/2013
Nine killed in protests across country, widespread frustration and anger at Morsi.
 
CAIRO – A sunny afternoon of flag-waving and chanting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square degenerated into plumes of tear gas and rioting for the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution.

In Suez, the protests turned fatal, when eight people were shot and killed, including at least one member of the security forces. Another demonstrator killed in the city of Ismailia.

Across Egypt, 450 civilians and 55 security personnel were wounded, officials said.

The protests were fueled by widespread disgust against President Mohamed Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which many Egyptians feel have tipped the country farther into a desperate economic abyss.

Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said.

Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings as symbols of government were targeted in Suez. Protesters also torched the Muslim Brotherhood’s website offices in Cairo.

Friday’s protests were an attempt to reignite the passionate demonstrations that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 18 days in 2011.

“This is in solidarity with the people of Egypt, who staged one of the most glorious revolutions in history and are determined to get it back,” Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prisoner under the Mubarak regime and Egypt’s leading human rights activist, told The Jerusalem Post as he walked toward Tahrir. “The crowd today speaks loud and clear to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, putting them on notice to be alert and vigilant that we won’t allow despotism to be erected again.”

Throughout the afternoon, marches that began in every corner of Cairo streamed toward Tahrir Square. As with many of the protests two years ago, demonstrators came from all classes – upper-class women drinking coffee while lounging on plastic chairs, hardened homeless people sleeping in ratty blankets in the corners, children weaving through their parents legs and vendors hawking commemorative January 25 T-shirts.

The protest took on the air of a carnival for much of the afternoon, complete with cotton candy, popcorn, and face paint in the colors of the Egyptian flag. But widespread frustration was seething underneath, as many Egyptians feel they are much worse off now than they were in 2011.

Still disgusted with the government, protesters recycled the chants from the historic uprising two years ago. “The people want to bring down the regime,” and “Leave! Leave! Leave!” they recited, this time referring to Morsi instead of Mubarak. The same cries for “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice!” echoed down the streets that thronged with people.

“I’m happy and sad at the same time,” said Sara, a 16- year-old demonstrator making thousands of red cards to hand out to the masses to symbolize Morsi getting thrown out by a referee. “We got rid of Mubarak and brought Morsi, but he’s the same.”

As night fell, the diverse crowd was replaced by a more hardened group, including the “Ultras,” soccer hooligans who are known for instigating violence.

Police fired tear gas to disperse a few dozen protesters trying to remove barbed wire and concrete barriers protecting the presidential palace, witnesses said. A few masked men got as far as the gates before they were beaten back.

“This show of force is to convince the Muslim Brotherhood they can’t rule as if they are despots,” Nabil, an activist with the Social Democrats, said earlier in the afternoon. He stressed that he had no problem with the formation of the government, just the action that it was taking. “The revolution didn’t achieve those goals to improve life for poor Egyptians and improve the economy, but the biggest achievement of the revolution was a sense of empowerment,” he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood vowed not to get involved in Friday’s protests since much of the rage was directed at its ineffectiveness in dealing with Egypt’s deep economic problems.

Instead, it members spent the day planting trees and renovating schools in an effort to win more support among poor voters ahead of April’s legislative election.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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