After a sunny afternoon of flag waving and chanting, Tahrir Square filled with tear gas and violent protests late on Friday night, the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution.
In Suez, the protests turned fatal, when seven people were shot and killed, including at least one member of the security forces. Across Egypt, 456 people were injured, officials said, in demonstrations fueled by anger at President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said.
Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings as symbols of government were targeted. An office used by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party was also torched.
The protests were an attempt to reignite the passionate demonstrations that toppled President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days in 2011 and channel the anger towards Morsi.
Protesters echoed the chants of 2011's historic 18-day uprising. "The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted. "Leave! Leave! Leave!" chanted others as they marched towards the square.
“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 of the Mubarak regime and Egypt’s leading human rights activist, told The Jerusalem Post as he walked towards 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 towards 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.
As night fell, the diverse crowd was replaced by a more hardened group, including the “Ultras,” soccer hooligans who are known for instigating violence. Recently, some ultras have started wearing black sweatshirts and black balaclava face masks with an insignia of the Ahly soccer team, in an effort to avoid identification by the police.
Police fired tear gas to disperse a few dozen protesters trying to remove barbed-wire 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,” said Nabil, an activist with the Social Democrats, earlier in the afternoon. He stressed that he had no problem with the formation of the government, just the action that they were 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 the party’s ineffectiveness in dealing with Egypt’s deep economic problems.