Thousands of protesters who have fought police in the center of Cairo for more than 24 hours defied an army attempt to disperse them Sunday, throwing the Egyptian capital into tumult just a week ahead of scheduled elections.
The Ministry of Health says five people were killed during the past few days of clashes, although the death toll could rise as local hospitals are being inundated with badly injured protesters.
The clashes are the latest in a series of violent incidents involving not just the police, but the Egyptian military, since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.
In March, the military violently cleared Cairo's Tahrir Square and tortured some of the detained activists with electric shocks and sexual abuse at the nearby Egyptian Museum. In June, too, there were casualties as the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) cracked down. And on Oct. 6, about 27 mostly Coptic Christians were killed by the military in a protest outside the state Radio and Television Building, a short walk from Tahrir. (Editor's note: The original version understated the number killed on Oct. 6.)
But this weekend's fighting is some of the most intense and sustained seen since the days of the revolution that toppled Mr. Mubarak. Among activist protesters, whatever good will they had for the Army seems in tatters. And with protesters also now flooding the streets of other cities such as Alexandria and Suez, it's unclear how the military council plans to bring an end to the violence.
Egypt's military rulers have called the protests an attempt to derail democracy ahead of next week's vote, which they insist will take place as planned, despite rumors to the contrary given today's events. But many protesters on the street, who feel the military simply replaced Mr. Mubarak's dictatorship with its own, are calling the clashes the start of the second revolution. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of SCAF, was a long time confidant of Mubarak's.
“The military is stealing our revolution,” says protester Ihab Farouk. “When we started our revolution in January, we had hope. Now there’s no elections, no security, no money, no jobs. So we don’t trust anyone but ourselves. Now we’re starting a new revolution.”
How will the violence end?
The protesters are demanding that the military junta ruling Egypt hand power to a civilian government. Their large numbers and determination, coming on the heels of a large protest Friday with the same demands, puts tremendous pressure on the SCAF just a week before the first parliamentary elections since the uprising are due to take place. It also brings into question the government’s ability to secure those elections.
The SCAF promised a quick transition, but has repeatedly delayed elections, while using increasingly repressive tactics like torture, military trials for civilians, jailing bloggers, and cracking down on media.
Will there be elections next week?
Many are now worried the violence will delay the elections and entrench military rule.
Already, some liberal and leftist politicians and political alliances have suspended their campaigns.
Meanwhile, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized group in Egypt that is poised to dominate the polls, is carrying on with its campaigning, and has not called on its members to join the protests, though it organized a peaceful protest Friday.
It has condemned the police and military violence against protesters.
“We don't need to go in direct competition with police and the army, because we need now the situation to be more relaxed and more quiet than this,” says Walid Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. “We need the elections to be on the (scheduled) date. If the situation becomes worse than this, I think the Army may decide to postpone or cancel the elections.”
Bassem Kamel, a parliamentary candidate for the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said an election delay to allow the vote to take place in peace and security was preferable, but in the meantime he is sticking to the campaign trail.
“I have to, because I can't afford to quit my campaign and let the other parties go and win these elections,” he said. "I'm sure the Islamists are still campaigning, and I have to be with them [on the campaign trail].”
But the member of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition is finding time, amid the campaign stops, to head to Tahrir Square to support the protesters.