On a day marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 October 6 War, clashes broke out as protesters took to the streets denouncing the current military-backed government.
At least 34 were killed and more than 200 injured, according to the Health Ministry, as protesters faced off with security forces and angry residents.
Marches from across the capital opposed to the military-backed interim government were planning to converge in Tahrir Square. The iconic square was blocked off to traffic and under heavy security on all sides in anticipation of protests called for by the Anti-Coup Alliance, comprising of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite threats by the interior and defense ministries to use force against any attempts to spoil October 6 celebrations, the marchers pressed on towards Tahrir Square.
Earlier on Sunday, thousands began gathering in Tahrir and cheered as military jets flew overhead, chanting in support of the military and carrying posters of Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But unlike previous pro-military rallies, the turnout on October 6 was markedly low. Eyewitnesses said numbers reached a maximum of a few thousand, compared to the hundreds of thousands who have previously taken to the streets at the general’s request.
The area around the Ettehadeya Presidential Palace was quiet most of the day, and by evening, a few hundred were there to mark the day’s commemorations.
Much of the celebrations in Tahrir and on national television was focused more on the actions taken against the Muslim Brotherhood over the past three months than on the 40-year anniversary of the October 6 War. Both were dealt with by the state press as victories against a national enemy.
Mohamed Rabie, a 36-year-old employee in the Giza Youth and Sports Authority, said his employers asked him to celebrate October 6 in Tahrir: “They asked me to come here with my colleagues, but I don’t see it as a command, because we all love the military and are against the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism.”
Posters of Sisi were abundant as some in the square collected signatures for a petition calling on the general to stand in the upcoming presidential elections.
Ahmed Khalil, in his 40s, told Mada Masr he came to Tahrir Square with his family to “show gratitude for the Egyptian army’s efforts and in support of Sisi,” who he hopes will run for president.
One Mada Masr reporter who attended the rally in Tahrir Square as well as the anti-regime clashes said the day was a continuation of the war of exchanged hatred between both sides, as it was obvious that no party was protesting for clear demands.
Those gathered in Tahrir celebrated the military and the security crackdown on the now-criminalized Brotherhood group. Meanwhile, protesters of the so-called Anti-Coup Alliance challenged state rhetoric with a stronger presence on the streets than many had anticipated.
Despite the numbers, however, attempts to approach Tahrir were quickly quashed and met immediately with tear gas to disperse the crowds, leading them to scatter in surrounding streets in Garden City and Dokki, where the longest and most intense fighting took place.
Another Mada Masr reporter described the determined desire of Brotherhood protesters to enter the symbolic square, without thinking of the consequences of challenging the brute force of the military and police forces stationed there.
Although the protests include those who are not officially members of the Brotherhood, the discourse and the composition of the protests reflected, for the most part, a strong Islamist identity.
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.”
Yet, most of the chants in the Dokki clashes were “Islamic, Islamic.”
Protests in Dokki, Mohandiseen and Garden City had a strong youth presence, which made clashes inevitable, as one Mada Masr reported explained. The youth, who raised the flags of their deceased friends who were killed during the bloody dispersal of Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in on August 14, were angrily chanting against the military and police as they approached the police cordon in Galaa Square.
The protesters were soon trapped between the police forces who fired tear gas, and angry residents of Dokki, who were later identified as the family and neighbors of a martyred police general who was allegedly killed by Brotherhood armed militants in Kerdasa, according to eyewitnesses there.