A protest by soccer fans angry over the deaths of more than 70 people after a match devolved into clashes with police last night, turning streets of downtown Cairo once again into an urban battle zone. Hundreds were wounded and at least one person was reportedly killed in the capital after riot police stopped soccer fans and protesters attempting to march to the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police force.
The outpouring of anger was sparked by fighting between soccer fans after a match Wednesday in Port Said, when police did little to prevent or stop the violence that killed a shocking number of people.
But it’s not just about soccer – protesters say the deaths were just the tipping point after a year in which Egyptians have been repeatedly attacked and brutalized by security forces they say do more to protect the military rulers than the people, while the dreams of the revolution have been repeatedly stalled.
"We're here because of everything, because of the people who died on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, on Qasr al-Aini Street, and all the people they [the security forces] have killed in the past year," says Islam Said, a student at Cairo University and a fan of the Ahly club, whose fans were attacked yesterday. "We're tired, we want real security, we want real change."
In Cairo, after several hours in which protesters taunted the police, punctuated by stone throwing and attempts at breaking down police barriers, police shot tear gas at the crowds. Clashes began and lasted through the night. Protesters reported that police were using birdshot as well as tear gas. A health ministry official said two people were killed by gunfire in Suez, where protests also took place.
Side effect of military rule?
Such clashes, which have become an almost common occurrence in downtown Cairo, seem to be an effect of the inherent instability created by continued military rule, and many of the protesters say such outbreaks will not stop before the military steps down.
The ruling military council has pledged to hand over power by July, after a presidential election. The renewed violence may strengthen activists and parties who have called for presidential elections to be held sooner, before a constitution is drafted.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party (FJP), which holds the most seats in parliament, has not joined in such calls. But it has flexed the muscles of the newly elected parliament. Yesterday the body voted in favor of a motion submitted by Essam El Erian, an FJP leader, to hold the interior minister accountable for the deaths in Port Said, and to summon him to be questioned by a parliamentary committee.
Mr. Erian called it an important move to hold leaders accountable. “The ministry of interior and the police have not done its job to keep security and to prevent incidents, and of course this means that this ministry, as a whole, must be reformed again and cleaned from the leaders who were in the previous regime.”
More clashes today
Clashes between protesters and police continued Friday, even as some urged the protesters to withdraw from the streets surrounding the interior ministry back to nearby Tahrir square, to prevent more violence.
Overnight, the protesters tore down the wall of cement blocks that the military erected during street fighting in the same vicinity in November, to separate police from protesters. Crowds cheered wildly Thursday night, chanting "Freedom!" as youths struggled to dislodge the massive blocks, using ropes and traffic barricades as pry bars. They also called for the execution of de facto leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and cursed the government.