Egypt’s revolution celebration turns bloody

By Michael Hughes

The death toll in Egypt reached 29 on Saturday after security forces clashed with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and other anti-regime factions, marring the third anniversary of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule.

According to Egypt’s Ahram Online tens of thousands flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square to participate ingovernment-sanctioned festivities while throngs of pro-regime supporters assembled across the nation waving Egyptian flags and carrying pictures of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood activists organized nationwide anti-government protests against what they perceive as the military’s hijacking of the revolution. The army drew the ire of Islamists last July when it overthrewMorsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected head of state.

Members of an independent secular coalition, opposed to both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, also took to the streets but were dispersed by police tear gas and birdshot.

The violence started when a car bomb exploded near a security facility in the city of Suez, followed by a blast near the Cairo police academy. The bombings come a day after at least 20 people and six policemen were killed in a series of explosions that shook Cairo on Friday. Egypt Independent reports that an Al Qaeda-inspired group claimed responsibility for the wave of attacks.

Egypt’s health ministry reported that of the 29 killed on Saturday, 26 died in Cairo, two in Minya and one in Alexandria. A BBC report seems to indicate that the deaths were the result of harsh police tactics.

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Many government supporters see Sisi as a needed strongman, according to an AFP report, who can restore order and combat extremism, as evidenced by the mass jailing of Islamist figures including “virtually all of the Brotherhood’s top leadership.”

Yet the Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago and its leaders have condemned the recent terrorist bombings while insisting that they are committed to peace.

Many believed Egypt’s military had acted in the country’s best interests when it first extirpated Morsi, considering the president’s approval ratings had sunk to 28% due to the issuance of several illiberal decrees and his mishandling of the economy.

But that was before security forces killed over 1,000 Morsi supporters during riots that erupted in the wake of the coup. The military’s decision to forcefully disband the Muslim Brotherhood, according to someexperts, could strengthen the hand of militant Islamist groups.

Some liberal leaders questioned the prudence of the new militocracy, including vice president Mohamed ElBaradei who resigned, fled to Vienna and was subsequently charged with “betrayal of trust.”

Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif doesn’t believe the country is experiencing the type of third anniversary hoped for because the security state has returned and “a great many activists are in jail.”

Over the weekend detained Al Jazeera reporter Peter Greste was able to sneak a letter out of Cairo’s Tora prison which he describes as “overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government.”

The AFP piece captures the irony of the current situation quite succinctly: “Three years after the start of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Saturday calling for another military man to become their leader.