A vigil was held Wednesday on the second anniversary of the Maspero clashes in 2011, when at least 25 demonstrators – mostly Coptic Christians – were either shot or run over by army vehicles on 9 October after clashes between protesters demanding Coptic rights and military police.
Anti-military sentiment was heard in most chants yelled by the hundreds that gathered at Cairo’s state broadcasting building in Maspero, where the bloody events took place two years ago.
Around four hundred emonstrators chanted against the heads of the ex-Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) ruling of the country in 2011. SCAF head Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, now retired, got the lion's share of antagonism, followed by then second-in-command Lieutenant General Sami Anan.
Both Anan and Tantawi were retired and given state honours by ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group also featured in chants, with demonstrators stressing they are not supporting the groups that have been holding weekly protests since Morsi’s ouster in July.
“Execute the field marshal [Tantawi] and Anan with the Brotherhood!” demonstrators demanded, as others held candlelit vigils in commemoration of the dead.
The familiar chant “down with military rule” was repeated intermittently, recalling the period in 2011 and 2012 when protesters pressured the army to hand over power to an elected civilian leader.
“We’re not from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor do we want Morsi, but the army should forget about ruling,” they shouted.
Commenting on the event, prominent rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was present at the demonstration – and who was charged by a military court for attacking the army during the Maspero clash – believes that the chances for justice in the short run have been compromised.
“There is a general mood for collusion with the army on its crimes,” he told Ahram Online. The army’s removal of Morsi after millions took to the streets against him saw soaring support for the institution, in contrast to its deteriorating support towards the end of SCAF rule in 2012.
“People are now applauding crimes against Islamists committed by the same institutions that killed others before,” he stated.
The vigil was peaceful and brief, save for one instant where a man was arrested by security forces who told Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website he was “planted” to incite a fight in the demo.
Ahmed Yehia, one of the organisers of the event, was urging people to leave two hours after the commencement of the vigil. Yehia said he was announcing the end of the event which was only planned for 2 hours, ensuring there was no trouble.
Yehia expressed his skepticism regarding the army’s role in politics. “You’ve done a great job on 30 June and we stood by you then, but your role is over,” he commented to Ahram Online.
Another demonstrator, Salma Sherif, shared Yehia’s opinion. She said that while her main reason for coming to Maspero was to commemorate the victims, she believes the army’s role is to protect, not rule.
Demonstrators were still adamant that Tantawi, Anan and other commanders they hold politically responsible for the “massacre” be tried. A large photo of Tantawi was burnt to the sounds of a cheering crowd.
Only three low-ranking officers were charged for “involuntary manslaughter” after Maspero and they were given short sentences by the military prosecution.
The military still denies using live ammunition at the scene, despite many of the dead being killed by bullets.
Another demonstration was held in Alexandria. Al-Ahram’s Arabic news site reported that some walked out – among them members of the known Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union - in objection to anti-military chants.
Joseph Mina told Al-Ahram Arabic that the stand was in commemoration of the dead not against the army, and was in appreciation of the military's role on 30 June.
The group also refused to take part in the Maspero vigil, citing its fear the Brotherhood and “extremists” would capitalise on the vigil to protest against the army.
Instead, Maspero Youth Union said they would commemorate the victims at a religious event at the Saint Simon Monastery in the Cairo district of Moqattam.
During the event, a request was directed to Army Chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi – the commander who led Morsi’s ouster – asking him for reconciliation between the army and Copts after the “great role” the army played in recent events, Al-Ahram Arabic reported.