Clashes broke out in several areas around Cairo as mass marches of protesters chanting against military rule were stopped from entering Tahrir Square, where thousands of others had gathered early in the morning to celebrate the anniversary of the 1973 October 6 War.
By the evening, the Health Ministry reported that at least 53 were killed and more than 270 injured nationwide during the day’s bloody events. The state-run Middle East News Agency also reported that at least 400 protesters were arrested across the country pursuant to the clashes.
In the early evening, clashes broke out in Ramses Street in downtown Cairo, a short distance away from celebrations in support of the Armed Forces taking place in Tahrir. According to the state news agency, protesters burned tires and closed off the main road to traffic in the area.
Security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators, who reportedly retaliated with Molotov cocktails.
Within a couple of hours, security forces reportedly pushed the crowd back towards Ghamra and nearby side streets, and out of the central Ramses Square.
By late Sunday afternoon, the heaviest clashes seem to be concentrated in the Dokki neighborhood, where protesters battled with residents and security forces. A front line appeared to have formed on Tahrir Street, the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood.
A Mada Masr reporter in the vicinity witnessed Molotov cocktails being thrown, but it was unclear who was throwing them. Constant gunfire could be heard around the area of protests.
Witnesses reported seeing armed, plain clothed men descending from a Central Security Forces truck. Armed men were also arriving at the scene in an unmarked car with red license plates — a sign that the vehicle belongs to the governorate.
These men demanded that no one film the clashes, and chased protesters down neighborhood streets, sometimes detaining them, witnesses said.
A Mada Masr reporter described a “nightmarish scene” with tear gas and gunfire, civilians beating up protesters they’ve captured, and protesters responding with fireworks. Plain clothed men could also be seen walking around with light weapons, including a hooded man clearly brandishing a knife.
Many of the protesters were marching in support of the now-criminalized Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Eyewitnesses say protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as they marched, and residents of the area took to the streets to protect their neighborhood.
Protesters in the Dokki march shouted at passersby, “We are not real … All this is photoshopped,” as they gestured towards a seemingly endless crowd of demonstrators.
Eyewitnesses said dozens were arrested by Central Security Forces, and that local residents were also detaining some protesters.
Rasha, a female demonstrator in Dokki, told Mada Masr, “Look, I’m not veiled and I’m a liberal. Not all those protesting are Brotherhood like people insist. The people want freedom and democracy. We elected a president for the first time in years, and we are here to defend this principle. We [don’t believe in] removing a president by force.”
“When we say ‘down with military rule,’ we are talking about the army generals who work for their own interests … We are not against the military as an institution, they are our family,” she clarified.
As guns fired in the background, she said, “We are peaceful and unarmed. They want us to be quiet, but we will never be quiet again.”
Violence was also reported down on the Nile Corniche in Garden City, where security forces reportedly used tear gas to push back a march of thousands coming from Manial.
The anti-regime protests were organized by the Anti-Coup Alliance, comprising supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, political forces calling for Morsi’s reinstatement, and citizens that oppose the army-backed legitimacy of the interim government.
The Anti-Coup Alliance called on supporters to gather at several spots around Cairo and head to Tahrir Square on time for afternoon prayers, amid heightened security at major squares around the country as Egypt celebrates national Armed Forces Day.
Starting on Sunday morning, protesters gathered in Giza’s Mohandiseen district. More than 2,000 demonstrators set off towards Tahrir.
Protesters chanted against the military and carried the yellow hands with four fingers to signify Rabea el-Adaweya, where hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed on August 14 when security forces violently dispersed their sit-in.
Mohamed al-Bagoury, a 37-year-old marketing executive from Giza, took part in the Mohandiseen march.
“It’s not about Morsi anymore. What I care about is legitimacy. We elected a civilian president in free and fair elections. I want our constitution, an interim government and legitimacy. What we conducted a referendum on our constitution. Morsi is a symbol of legitimacy,” he told Mada Masr.
“I’m protesting to get my rights and the rights of those that died in Rabea, Nahda and the Republican Guard [clashes]. This new government is a coup, this is not democracy,” he added.
Asked why protesters were headed to Tahrir given the likelihood of clashes breaking out with the crowds assembled there to celebrate the army, Bagoury answered, “Going to Tahrir is the spirit of the revolution. This is known globally as the place where the January 25 revolution took place.”
The state news agency said that the march left from Mahrousa Mosque in Mohandiseen, but was stopped when trying to ascend the May 15 Bridge, and instead took Sudan Street heading to Tahrir Square.
Elsewhere in Egypt, at least one protester was killed in clashes with security forces in Minya’s Delga village on Sunday, security and medical sources told Reuters.
Reuters reported that clashes erupted near a police station in Delga when protesters threw stones at police, who responded with live fire. It was not immediately possible to verify what provoked the violence.
Protesters attempting to rally at Alexandria’s Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque were also stopped by security forces, and some were arrested for distributing leaflets that called for civil disobedience, according to the state news agency.