Fears of violence loom as rivals eye Egypt's Tahrir on armed forces day

Randa Ali , Saturday 5 Oct 2013

Sunday marks 40 years since the Egyptian victory in the October War of 1973, a day Islamists have vowed to mark with fresh protests against the July ouster of Mohamed Morsi

Tahrir Square
File photo: Egyptian military jets fly in formation over Tahrir square, 4 July (Photo: Reuters)

Nationwide celebrations and protests are scheduled to take place in Egypt Sunday to mark the 40th anniversary of the 6 October 1973 war against Israel with rival camps eyeing the iconic Tahrir Square as their destination.

Egyptian military helicopters have been hovering over the capital for the past few days, while food has been distributed in several governorates to commemorate Armed Forces Day.

Egypt’s interim-President Adly Mansour, in a speech shown on state television Saturday, called on all Egyptians to hit the streets Sunday: “Be in every district, street and square of Egypt to celebrate your victory and support your army."

A military source told the state-owned MENA news agency late Friday that Tahrir Square, and Ittihadiya in the Heliopolis district, will be closed.

At least four were killed Friday as supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi marched to several squares in Cairo, part of the plan of the pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) to hold continuous rallies from Friday until 6 October against what they describe as a “coup d’etat” staged by the military on 3 July.

“We’ll gather in Tahrir Square on 6 October in a million-man march dubbed 'Cairo is the Capital of the Revolution,'" read a NASL statement.

The alliance went on to ask participants to bring pictures of martyrs of the October War, “so that the army would go back to its true fighting doctrine … before it turns into militias that know nothing but killing [the] people and chasing children and students.”

Several forces allied to the NASL have announced that they will be participating, including the Salafist Front and Youth Against Coup group.

“Our target is to go back to Tahrir to bring the revolution back to the square,” said Diaa El-Sawy, spokesman of the Youth Against Coup group, who compared the choice of day to 25 January, National Police Day, which in 2011 sparked the uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Fears of fresh clashes

According to El-Sawy, the 6 October represents a festive day for Egypt's military, stressing that their dispute is not with the military institution, but rather with individuals who "tarnished the mlitary uniform like some policemen tarnished 25 January."

25 January was chosen as National Police Day in Egypt after 50 officers were killed by the British in 1952 for refusing to withdraw from the city of Ismailia.

Fears of potential clashes are rising as several political figures also call on Egyptians to head to squares nationwide Sunday, including Tahrir Square, to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

Spokesman of the liberal Constitution Party Khaled Dawoud was reportedly attacked by pro-Morsi protesters Friday in downtown Cairo. Dawoud said he was stabbed in the chest and hands, in addition to being beaten.

“We announced we’re going to Tahrir Square long ago before anyone else spoke of celebrating the day in the square,” said El-Sawy. He affirmed that his group will not change its mind about going to Tahrir Square, insisting that their protests "are always peaceful."

“We think the army uses such calls to create battles, but we trust Egyptians will not answer these calls, because its not for celebrating but only to disturb our peaceful protests,” he said.

“If we changed our venue they’d follow us anywhere we go. We’re not changing our call,” El-Sawy said, adding that protests will continue until “everything goes back to where it was before the coup d’etat (3 July), including the reinstatement of Morsi.”

On Tuesday, the front page of the official newspaper of Islamist Al-Amal Party, also a member of the NASL, described the rival protests on 6 October as a choice "between heaven or hell," calling on people to "crawl to Tahrir Square, on the best day for martyrdom."

The Rebel movement, which vigorously mobilised for Morsi’s ouster, issued a statement Wednesday calling on people to celebrate “the great victory” in front of the presidential palace and in squares nationwide, including Tahrir.

“No person, party or group can stand against the people’s will,” said the Rebel movement, who called on security forces to protect the people from any terrorist group "that will attempt to spoil the celebrations.”

Rebel member Moheb Doss told Ahram Online that his group will not withdraw its call for people to head to Tahrir Square to avoid protests by Morsi loyalists.

“This is not only Tamarod (Rebel). All political forces refuse the presence of the Islamist current on the street after they declared the army as an enemy,” said Doss, adding that pro-Morsi loyalists had threatened to protest 30 June and didn’t when Egyptians went to the streets in vast numbers.

He added that people will go Sunday to Tahrir, and other locations nationwide, to celebrate but also to underline the legitimacy of the people’s support for the army.

“Clashes, even if they are expected, shouldn’t scare us from a few hundreds,” added Doss.

Plans for 6 October

The leftist Tagammu Party has also called on its supporters to converge on squares Sunday to "stifle protests planned by the Muslim Brotherhood."

Party member Amr Abdel-Rady told Al-Ahram's Arabic news website Monday that they had received "confirmed information" that the Islamist group planned to "ruin the day by attacking state-owned facilities."

Meanwhile, spokesman of the Salafist El-Nour Party Nader Bakkar told Ahram Online that his party will not take part in the celebrations, to avoid any possible confrontations.

“6 October is an important event that Egyptians need to celebrate. However, we’re afraid mass gatherings could lead to confrontations,” Bakkar said. He added: “We urge whoever is going to take part to avoid any confrontation with other Egyptians."

Like Al-Nour, Strong Egypt's party founded by former presidential Abdel-Moneim Abou El-Fotouh and the April 6 youth movement warned of potential clashes on Sunday, calling on people to celebrate peacefully.

Bakkar further expressed his fear that calls for rival protests could negatively affect efforts towards national reconciliation between Morsi loyalists and the interim government.

Reconcilliation efforts have largely failed following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi with the Muslim Brotherhood putting the reinstatement of Morsi as a main condition for talks with the interim government.

On Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders Amr Darrag and Mohamed Ali Bishr in Cairo as part of a three-day visit that is being viewed by analysts as a new attempt to reach an agreement between the post-Morsi government and the Brotherhood.

According to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website, the agreement would be that the Brotherhood put an end to their anti-military protests in exchange for the release of members arrested without charge.

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members have been detained in a security crackdown since the forced dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-in camps mid-August

The government announced Wednesday its plan for celebrating the 40th anniversary of the October War, including military and artistic and cultural events to take place across Egypt's governorates.

According to Al-Ahram Arabic news website, Minister of Youth Khaled Abdel-Aziz said that youth centres and scouts will hold celebratory events including music and art in different governorates.

State TV has already added a logo to its broadcasts celebrating the "40 Year Anniversary of the October Victory."

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