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Deadly protests roil Egypt on anniversary of revolution

Hundreds are injured as Egyptians take to the streets in anger against what they see as Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's failed leadership.

January 25, 2013|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cairo's Tahrir Square on the two-year anniversary of the nation's revolution.
Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cairo's Tahrir Square… (Khalil Hamra / Associated…)

CAIRO — At least five people were killed and hundreds were injured Friday as protests swept across Egypt over the Islamist-led government's failure to fix the besieged economy and heal the politically divided nation two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The anniversary of the revolution that led to Mubarak's downfall was marked more by bloodshed than joy as familiar and troubling scenes played out amid the widening despair. Gunshots echoed through cities, rock-throwing youths lunged at police through clouds of tear gas, and peaceful demonstrators waved banners and shouted epithets against those in power.

Five people, including police officers, were killed by unknown gunmen in the port city of Suez, according to state media. Unconfirmed reports from a private television station said nine people had died throughout the country. Nearly 400 people, including scores of police officers, were injured, with many of the wounded treated in mosques and alleys.

President Mohamed Morsi has been engulfed for months by anger from secularists, who claim he and his Muslim Brotherhood party have turned increasingly authoritarian in a bid to advance an Islamist state at the expense of social justice. The protests were the latest reminder of the volatile politics and persistent mistrust that threaten Egypt's transition.

"Morsi is finished," said Tarik Salama, an activist. "A big part of the population hates him now. It's too late for him to turn around and say, 'Hey guys, I love you.' He's in the same place as Mubarak was two years ago. Morsi's biggest problem is that he failed to unify the country. A lot of people voted for him, but he failed."

One banner raised in Cairo's Tahrir Square read, "Two years since the revolution, and Egypt still needs another revolution." Protest chants that harked back to the 18-day revolt that toppled Mubarak were now directed at Morsi: "Leave, leave."

The days ahead may prove more violent. Many of the youths clashing with police in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities are angry about an economy that offers little hope. They have been joined by hard-core soccer fans, known as Ultras, demanding that police officials be held accountable for the deaths of 74 soccer fans killed last year in a stadium riot.

A court verdict in that case is expected Saturday. In recent days, youths in Cairo have battled police with stones and gasoline bombs around the high concrete barricades that block streets leading from Tahrir Square to parliament and the Interior Ministry.

Young men pulled part of the barrier down but police drove them back, firing steady volleys of tear gas that cloaked the square and drifted over the Nile.

"These young men and kids have no jobs," said Salama. "The young in Egypt feel there is no future for them. This is the big danger."

By dusk Friday, youths with rags and scarves over their faces hurled stones and rushed the barriers, preparing for another night of clashes. The unrest spurred the emergence of an anarchist group, known as the Black Bloc, whose masked and black-clad members threw Molotov cocktails and attempted to overrun the presidential palace and the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

Protesters attacked offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and blocked highways and rail lines. To avoid adding to the violence, the Brotherhood ordered its followers to stay away from Tahrir and instead participate in community programs, such as planting trees and handing out food to the poor. A militant arm of the Brotherhood was blamed last month for deadly attacks against anti-Morsi protesters.

The backlash against Morsi intensified in November when he expanded his presidential powers and, sidestepping the courts, pushed through a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution. The liberal opposition, which has long been disorganized, denounced him for ruining the promise of democracy that inspired the 2011 revolution.

Morsi has said his actions were an effort to root out Mubarak-era loyalists from the government and propel the country toward parliamentary elections in the spring.

But his biggest problem perhaps is Egypt's troubled economy, which has lost more than half its foreign reserves and worsened conditions for the approximately 40% of Egyptians who live on $2 a day.

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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