Tension ahead of Egypt's Mohamed Mahmoud clashes anniversary

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Monday 18 Nov 2013

Egypt's revolutionary groups fear the memory of Mohamed Mahmoud Street could be marred by clashes once again, following calls by the Muslim Brotherhood and military supporters to demonstrate on the same day

Mohamed Mahmoud clashes
Protesters throw stones at police who are firing teargas, during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo November 23, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

The current political struggle in Egypt has cast its shadow over the second memory of the deadly clashes in 2011 between protesters and police forces in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, in which over 47 protesters were killed.

Plans by protest groups to commemorate the second anniversary of the week-long violence, which started on 19 November, were accompanied by calls for demonstrations by supporters of the military, as well as those of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to demonstrate on the same day.

"It's a very strange scene," Revolutionary Socialist activist Hatem Taleema told Ahram Online. "Those two camps are responsible for the Mohamed Mahmoud Street killings."

The Mohamed Mahmoud clashes took place outside the Interior Ministry headquarters, while the country was under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies denounced the protesters, accusing them of trying to disrupt the parliamentary elections which were scheduled to start a week later. 

There had been on-and-off reports that supporters of Morsi, ousted by the military in July following mass protests against his rule, will demonstrate on 19 November to condemn the military over the Mohamed Mahmoud deaths. On Monday, the pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy confirmed the plans, but announced it will steer clear of Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

But supporters of Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi have announced that they too plan to demonstrate in Tahrir Square on 19 November. Refay Nasr, the leader of a group urging El-Sisi – a military council member when the clashes took place – to stand for president, told private television channel Dream on Monday that members would hold up pictures of El-Sisi in the square.

"The military council was in charge of the country at the time, and the Muslim Brotherhood turned its back on us and failed to condemn the violence," Tallima comments.

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi laid the foundation of a new monument commemorating the "martyrs of the 25 January [2011] and the 30 June [2013] revolutions," referring to the historical 18-day uprising that led to toppling 30-year autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the nationwide protests two years later that led the military to topple Morsi in July.

Earlier this week, the interior ministry released a statement extending its condolences to the "martyrs of the revolution."

The government's actions, however, have drawn criticism from many activists, who regard the gestures as an attempt to whitewash the memory of the violence.

"Our demands from the beginning of the revolution the purge of the interior ministry and retribution all protesters who were killed by the police," said Wael Khalil, senior member in the Way of the Revolution Front, a recently-launched group aimed at providing a revolutionary alternative amid the current polarisation between the military and the Brotherhood.

"Until the government responds to these demands, it will not gain much credibility releasing a statement or building a monument," Khalil continued.

In an attempt to avoid tension in Tahrir and gear up for Tuesday, a number of protest groups and independent activists organised a 3000-strong Monday a commemoration march on Abdeen Square, a few kilometres away from Tahrir.

The march came in response to a call by the father of Gaber Salah, 16, also known as Jika, who was killed in November 2012 (under the rule of Mohamed Morsi) during protests on the first anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes.

Following the march, protesters marched on Tahrir Square and spray-painted anti-military and anti-Brotherhood slogans on the new monument-under-construction.

The front has announced it will host its own commemoration of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, including a rally from Talaat Harb Square ending at Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

"But security forces could block off the street from Tahrir tomorrow. We could get ambushed if they decided to disperse us violently to portray us as saboteurs," Tallima said.

Tallima said he was still concerned that some Morsi supporters could take part in the march, even though the pro-Morsi National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy had called on its loyalists to avoid Mohamed Mahmoud Street or any venues of potential confrontation “to deny plotters the chance of stirring violence and holding the alliance responsible.”

"Muslim Brotherhood supporters would want to associate themselves with any other groups protesting against the current government," Tallima said, "after they have been demonstrating on their own against the military since July."

Khalil, however, largely ruled out the possibility of clashes erupting between any of the three rival camps.

"The police are not likely to initiate clashes," Khalil predicted. "Bringing back the memory of police brutality in Mohamed Mahmoud would possibly backfire."


Stay tuned to Ahram Online on Tuesday for extensive coverage

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