CAIRO — Security forces sprayed protesters with water hoses and tear gas outside the presidential palace Monday as Egyptians marked the second anniversary of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s ouster with angry demonstrations against his elected successor.
The forces were trying to disperse a small crowd of protesters after some of them tried to cross a barbed wire barrier meant to keep them back from the palace gate.
Some protesters broke out in chants: “The people want to bring down the regime,” while others responded by throwing stones.
Graffiti scribbled on the palace walls read: “Erhal” or “Leave,” the chant that echoed through Tahrir Square during the 18-day uprising two years ago which ended with Mubarak stepping down on Feb. 11, 2011.
Earlier, masked men briefly blocked trains at a central Cairo subway station and a dozen other protesters blocked traffic on a main fly-over in Cairo. Hundreds rallied outside the office of the country’s chief prosecutor demanding justice and retribution for protesters killed in clashes with security forces after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took office last summer.
Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since Mubarak’s ouster in the uprising sparked largely by widespread abuse at the hands of state security agencies. After he stepped down, Mubarak was replaced by a ruling military council that was in power for 17 months. The rule of the generals was marred by violence and criticism that the council mismanaged the transitional period.
Morsi won the first free and democratic elections in June by a small margin. But he and his Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to be Egypt’s most powerful political group post-Mubarak, are now facing the wrath of Egyptians who say few of their goals when they toppled the old regime have been realized.
For many in Egypt, the past two years have only increased their frustration, as the economy deteriorated during the ensuing turmoil and political bickering between a largely secular opposition and a tightly organized and conservative Islamist bloc obstructed progress.
Protesters are particularly angry over the continued heavy handedness of security services, claiming little has changed since the Mubarak era. Many accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and ignoring the demands of the secular and liberal groups who were the backbone of the uprising.
Government opponents marched to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising which has been sealed off by protesters since November. Others went to the presidential palace. Hundreds marched through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.
“Of course I feel disappointed. Every day it’s getting worse,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a 20-year-old engineering student protesting outside the presidential palace said. “The economy is even worse and all government institutions are collapsing. Morsi won’t even acknowledge this.”
Doaa Mustafa, a 33-year-old housewife, said she is willing to stay on the streets until Morsi steps down as Mubarak did.
“We’re here so that Mohammed Morsi, the dictator, will leave. He is just as bad as Mubarak, if not worse.”
The protesters are demanding amendment of the country’s new constitution. They claim the Islamists rushed the charter through the approval process despite disagreement with the opposition. The result, they say, was a charter that undermines freedoms of expression and belief and chips away at women rights.
The protesters are also demanding a new Cabinet, accusing the current government of being ineffective and failing to rein in police abuses or institute economic reforms. One of the most heated issues for protesters remains the lack of justice for those behind the deaths of hundreds of civilians during protests against the state.
Morsi and his supporters have repeatedly dismissed the opposition’s charges, accusing them and Mubarak supporters of trying to topple a democratically elected president.
An increasingly violent wave of protests has spread outside of the capital in recent weeks as political initiatives failed to assuage the anger.
The recent explosion of violence began on the second anniversary of the start of the uprising on Jan.25.
It accelerated with riots in the Suez Canal city of Port Said by youths furious over death sentences issued against local soccer fans over a bloody stadium riot a year ago. Around 70 were killed in this wave of clashes.
But the crowds were far smaller at Monday’s protests and the violence more muted.
Before the major anniversary protests began, masked men stopped trains in a main Cairo subway station in Tahrir Square briefly to pressure Morsi to respond to their demands.
They stood on the tracks and witnesses said they scuffled with some passengers angered by the obstruction of traffic, pelting each other with rocks.
A security official said the metro police tried to stop the fighting. Birdshot was fired in the subway station, injuring some. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media and said he didn’t know who was behind the shooting.
Scores of activists from April 6, one of the key groups behind the uprising, rallied outside the office of the chief prosecutor, whose appointment by Morsi was criticized as a violation of the judiciary’s independence.
They demanded retribution for the hundreds of protesters killed at the hands of security forces particularly since Morsi’s election. The protesters lobbed plastic bags filled with red liquid at the office, symbolizing the spilled blood of civilians.
They chanted: “Hey, appointed prosecutor, who will bring justice to those martyrs?”
Protesters also locked shut the doors of the main administrative building for state services just outside the subway station at Tahrir Square, while others blocked traffic at a main bridge on the other side of town that leads to the presidential palace, standing in the road and burning tires.MORE IN Wire NewsMOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Six people who tried to disrupt a town hall meeting hosted by New Jersey Gov. Full StoryCOLUMBIA, S.C. Full Story
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