Violence, protesters return to Tahrir Square as Egypt marks revolution
An Egyptian protester runs with a live tear gas canister during clashes with riot police around Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday.
CAIRO -- Youths fought Egyptian police in Cairo and Alexandria on Friday on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought the election of an Islamist president whom protesters accuse of riding roughshod over the new democracy.
The Jan. 25 anniversary showcased the divide between the Islamists and their secular foes that is hindering President Mohammed Morsi's efforts to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.
Inspired by Tunisia's historic popular uprising, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that has only worsened and last month triggered lethal street battles.
Opponents of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday to revive the demands of a revolution they say has been betrayed by Islamists.
"Our revolution is continuing. We reject the domination of any party over this state. We say no to the Brotherhood state," Hamdeen Sabahy, a popular leftist leader, told Reuters TV as he made his way to the square for the rally.
"The people want to bring down the regime," declared banners in the square. "Save Egypt from the rule of the Supreme Guide," said another, a reference to leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie.
Police battled protesters who threw petrol bombs and firecrackers as they tried to approach a wall blocking access to government buildings near the square in the pre-dawn hours.
Clouds of tear gas fired by police filled the air. At one point, riot police used one of the incendiaries thrown at them to set ablaze at least two tents erected by the youths, a Reuters witness said.
Clashes between stone-throwing youths and the police continued in streets near the square into the day.
Ambulances ferried away a steady stream of casualties. The health ministry said 25 people had been injured since Thursday in fighting around the square.
Morsi, in a speech on Thursday marking the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, called on Egyptians to mark the anniversary "in a civilized, peaceful way that safeguards our nation, our institutions, our lives."
"The Brotherhood is very concerned about escalation. That's why they have tried to dial down their role on January 25," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
"... I don't see anything major happening that is going to fundamentally change the political situation," he said of the protests.
Morsi faces discontent on multiple fronts.
His opponents say he and his group are seeking to dominate the post-Mubarak order. They accuse him of showing some of the autocratic impulses of the deposed leader.
Six months into office, Morsi is also being held responsible for an economic crisis caused by two years of turmoil. The Egyptian pound has sunk to record lows against the dollar.
Other sources of friction abound. Activists are impatient for justice for the victims of political violence perpetrated over the last two years. Little has been done to reform brutal Mubarak-era security agencies.
A spate of transport disasters on roads and railways neglected for years is further feeding discontent.
The parties that called Friday's protest list demands including a complete overhaul of the Islamist-tinged constitution that was fast-tracked into law by Morsi in December, a move that fuelled street violence.
Its critics say the constitution, which was approved in a popular referendum, offers inadequate protection for human rights, gives the president too many privileges and fails to curb the power of the military establishment.
The Brotherhood dismisses such criticism as unfair. It accuses its opponents of failing to respect the rules of the new democracy that put the Islamists in the driving seat by winning elections.
Morsi's supporters say enacting the constitution quickly was crucial to restoring stability, and that the opposition is making the situation worse by perpetuating unrest.
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