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Egypt's 'Accountability Friday' turns up the heat on Brotherhood rule

Violence erupted as pro and anti Muslim Brotherhood forces rallied in Tahrir Square; pro-democracy forces accuse the Islamist group of thuggery, a charge the groups denies

Salma Shukrallah , Saturday 13 Oct 2012
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Muslim Brotherhood's bus destryed after protesters set it on fire (Photo: Bel Trew)
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Following day-long street-battles in Tahrir Square between "Accountability Friday" protesters and supporters of Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi, the latter have finally retreated from the iconic square. The clashes which were began when Morsi supporters attacked and destroyed a raised platform set up by the protesters leaving behind hundreds injured and an enraged crowd.

Demonstrations planned to mark Morsi's 100 days were quickly transformed into violent street battles with thousands running back and forth in the streets surrounding Tahrir, as rocks flew over all of the square's various entry points. Some waved socialist red flags, others the flags of the pro-democracy Constitution Party, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed Elbradei, while others held aloft banners of the Independent Federation of Trade Unions.

"The Brotherhood are attacking us," screamed one protester running towards Talaat Harb Square carrying a friend with obvious pellet-shot wounds in his leg.

"Sell out the revolution Badie [Brotherhood Supreme Guide]" and the familiar "The people demand the downfall of the Regime," the chants echoed across downtown Cairo.

As stones continued to hail down on the streets leading into the square, mainly in the now famous Mohamed Mahmoud Street, as well as in Talaat Harb Street, the square itself remained occupied by Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party members wearing caps carrying their party's name.

Wearing the party yellow cap, Mohamed Hassan, who identified himself as a Freedom and Justice Party member, told Ahram Online he was not aware of what initially started the fighting.

"This is strife!" he said adding "we came here to support the decision of our president Morsi to retire the prosecutor general."

As the clashes grew more violent, the chants of the crowd surrounding Hassan also got louder.

"The people support the president's decision," they chanted.

Morsi had made a hitherto failed attempt on Thursday to replace the current Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud following the acquittal by the Cairo Criminal Court of all 24 defendants, including top Mubarak regime officials, in the notorious “Battle of the Camel” attack on protesters in Tahrir during the early days of the anti-Mubarak revolution on 2 February 2011.

The president's decision was however rejected by Mahmoud who argued that such a decision was not within President Morsi’s mandate, as it violated judicial independence and the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.

Although Friday's protests were initially called for by leftists, liberal and nationalist forces to mark the end of Morsi's first 100-days, dubbing it "Accountability's Friday", the Muslim Brotherhood issued an 11th hour call upon their supporters to go to the square on the same day, ostensibly to protest the court’s ruling.

On the other hand, the “Accountability Friday” protest’s main demands, according to a joint statement published on Tuesday, included the dissolution of the current, Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, and the formation of a new assembly representative of the plurality of Egyptian society.

The protesters also targeted what they felt had been the Morsi government’s failure to respond the demand for greater social justice, a key demand of the Egyptian revolution. The protest demanded progressive taxation, a fair minimum wage, a wage ceiling on the salaries of government and public sector officials, as well as the provision of low-priced basic commodities.

"We are here demanding a law guaranteeing the freedom of trade unions. The Brotherhood should take their hands off trade unions", said Fayza Mandy from the Independent Trade Union of Real Estate Tax Employees to Ahram Online shortly before clashes erupted.

"They are currently arresting workers," Mandy added referring to recent police crackdowns on labour strikes.

In an interview with privately-owned Egyptian TV channel ONTV Live, leading member of the Popular Egyptian Current Amin Iskandar angrily accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being responsible of the current situation.

"Our protest has been planned a long time ago; our demands were clear before the verdict of the battle of the camel come out, they made a mistake by deciding to go to Tahrir," said Iskandar.

As Brotherhood supporters started leaving the square at 6 pm, several busses parked near the adjacent Abdel-Moneim Riad Square, said by eyewitnesses to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, were set on fire.

"Criminal mobs set on fire busses hired by the Freedom and Justice Party and parked near Tahrir Square. The party's legal committee will take the required steps", stated Vice Chairman of the FJP Member Essam El-Erian on his official twitter account.

"This is not the work of thugs, everyone always blames "thugs" who are they?! We are just taking our rights after the Brotherhood started throwing rocks at us, even used weapons, firing birdshot at us. What else were we supposed to do?" said one of the demonstrators.

Ali Abdel-Menoim, another demonstrator, stated "I'm against burning the buses, but also against the Muslim brotherhood coming to a peaceful protest with rocks".

"I came from Upper Egypt this morning, all the way to make my voice heard, against the way the constitution is being written, the mess Morsi has made of his first 100 days, and also the Battle of the Camel verdict", he added.

A black fog created by the torched buses clouded the area near the Egyptian Museum. Fire fighting trucks rushed to the scene to put out the blaze.

Doctor Amr Rasheed, in charge of ambulances in the field, told Ahram Online that the number of injuries has risen to hundreds, mainly reported were fractures and head injuries received by the Mounira and the Kasr El-Eini hospitals.

Protesters have re-occupied the iconic square after Muslim Brotherhood’s withdrawal, chanting slogans condemning the Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi. Banners carried aloft by protesters included a picture showing both Morsi and ousted President Hosni Mubarak with a caption that reads: "Morsi is Mubarak".

The April 6 Movement on the other hand released a statement it has withdrawn all its members from the scene, stressing it was opposed to the ongoing clashes, and declared it will instead be protesting before the Supreme Court against the Prosecutor General.

However, also blaming the Brotherhood for the violence, April 6 urged the Islamist group to "discipline" its members.

The Ministry of Interior released a statement later in the day after violence had come to an end urging all demonstrators to clear the streets.

Bel Trew contributed to this report

 

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