By MATT BRADLEY
CAIRO—Protesters descended on city squares across Egypt on Friday, the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year autocracy, in an outburst of the frustration and violence that have become fixtures of the country’s transition to democracy.
At least four people were killed in the city of Suez, where protesters reportedly set fire to a local government building, according to Egyptian state television. Some 379 people were injured nationwide, according to state media, as protesters also attacked police officers and Muslim Brotherhood offices in cities across the country.
The rallies exposed the fragility of Egypt’s new democracy, the country’s deep political divisions and the abiding pessimism two years after hopeful Egyptians overthrew then-President Mubarak in 18 days of protests.
Friday’s rallies showed that many Egyptians continue to view the street-level protests and violence—not the ballot box—as the surest way to express their political will. The general focus of rage is the government of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who his secular opponents complain has brought little real change.
The Muslim Brotherhood and their conservative Islamist allies have dominated every national vote since Mr. Mubarak stepped down. In statements this week, the Brotherhood championed Egypt’s “glorious revolution” but warned of the “evil forces of darkness [who] desperately endeavor to spoil the celebration [by] spreading chaos and terror across the country.”
In a statement on his official Twitter account, Mr. Morsi expressed his sympathy for the deaths of protesters and police officers in Suez and vowed to pursue those responsible.
In Egypt’s capital, marchers converged from across the city onto Tahrir Square, the nerve center of the 2011 revolution. Demonstrators chanted anti-Islamist slogans and activists delivered speeches from a sound stage, as tear gas wafted by from a small skirmish between youthful rioters and police a block away.
“This is not a memory or a memorial,” said Sayyid Gouda, a 36-year-old accountant who was wearing a gas mask around his neck as he gazed out on the crowds on the square. “This is a new wave of the revolution to restore our country.”
Rioters on the square threw rocks at the police over a 12-foot concrete-block wall erected last year to protect the nearby interior ministry building. Police officers responded with rocks and tear gas.
In condemning the Muslim Brotherhood, which exercises expansive control over Egypt’s government, Mr. Gouda and other activists drew from the same lexicon of resistance that defined the uprising two years ago. President Morsi and his Brotherhood backers are “fascists” who should be imprisoned for trying to take over Egypt and turn it into an Islamist state, Mr. Gouda said.
“He is doing the same as Mubarak: living in an ivory tower, just hearing the sounds from his own group,” Michael Magdy, a 30-year-old economist, said of Mr. Morsi. “We will protest until he leaves.”
Though many of the tens of thousands of demonstrators were peaceful, according to televised images of the protests, dozens of rock-throwing youth laid seige to the Brotherhood’s headquarters in the Nile Delta cities of Ismailia and Damanhour, according to the state news agency.
For the second time this week, assailants armed with Molotov cocktails attacked the offices of the Brotherhood’s website in downtown Cairo, the Brotherhood reported on the site.
Friday’s protests saw the first major appearance of a new group of masked protesters calling themselves the “Black Block,” after a protest strategy historically associated with the violent European anarchist movement. Sporting black clothing and concealing black face-masks, members of the group were responsible for blocking a tramway in the coastal city of Alexandria to make way for protesters and clashed with police in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, state media said.
The apparently loosely affiliated new group swore on its unofficial Facebook
page to shield anti-government protesters from Brotherhood thugs.
As with many previous violent protests that have gridlocked downtown Cairo, Friday’s rioting appeared to be perpetrated in large part by young men in their teens and twenties.
Many came from the ranks of Egypt’s soccer hooligans, or Ultras, who use political protests to further their long-running feud with the police.
The Ultras have been demonstrating in Cairo for the past week in anticipation of a court verdict set to be announced Saturday for the alleged murder of 74 soccer fans during a stadium riot last February.
Seventy-three defendants, including police officers and spectators, are accused of participating in one of the world’s deadliest soccer riots.
The Ultras have called on their members to gather outside a courthouse near Cairo on Saturday morning to hear the verdict. If the rulings against the accused are not harsh enough, Saturday could become “the last days in the lives of some people,” the group said on its Facebook page.
Write to Matt Bradley at [email protected]
A version of this article appeared January 25, 2013, on page A9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Egypt Marks Anniversary With Rioting.
Egypt Marks Anniversary With Rioting – Wall Street Journal
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