Activists gathered on Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes when dozens of protesters were killed by police.
The demonstration was held one day before the actual anniversary of the beginning of the clashes, as activists planning the event were keen to avoid the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had said they would stage rallies to honour the slain protesters.
During Monday’s demonstration, which took place in Cairo’s Abdeen Square in the capital’s downtown, activists chanted against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which was ruling at the time of the clashes, and demanded retribution for the "martyrs" who were killed.
They also chanted against the Brotherhood, who at the time of the clashes had denounced those protesting.
A stage was erected in the square, and on it activists roused the crowds yelling: "the people demand the execution of the field marshal," referring to the retired SCAF leader Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, while insisting that they don’t share a cause with the Brotherhood.
"We’re not Brotherhood, nor do we want [ousted president Mohamed] Morsi," the crowd chanted, differentiating themselves from the group and its main demand so far.
Egypt’s major non-Islamist parties, including the liberal Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, took part in Monday’s demonstration and said they will not take part in Tuesday’s protests.
Fearing the anniversary would be "used" by others for political ends, the Constitution Party warned its members against attempts to "create a rift" between the people and the army and called for them to remain peaceful and make national security as a priority.
Similar fears were expressed by other activists, who said they were protesting on Monday instead of Tuesday was due to their belief the anniversary of the 2011 clashes may be "appropriated by state or Muslim Brotherhood forces to serve their respective interests."
"The Salafists and the Brotherhood said they will protest on Tuesday and so did pro-military groups. Today’s protest was planned to avoid becoming part of clashes between both, we don’t want to be implicated in blood in case there are clashes," prominent leftist activist and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali told Ahram Online while attending the demo.
"Tuesday’s protests don’t represent our battle, it will be a fight between those aligned with the military and the Brotherhood and that’s why we chose to commemorate the events today," Ahmed Naguib, member of the "Martyr Gaber Salah Movement," a group named after Gaber "Jika" Salah, who lived in Abdeen and was killed by police last year on the clashes' first anniversary, told Ahram Online.
Salah was the first protester to be killed by police during Morsi’s time in office, and was the most prominent "martyr" visible in Abdeen Square. A flag carrying Jika’s face, painted in black against a white background, was the largest of several flags bearing faces of others killed by police.
"Our group will launch a series of events in the honour of Mohamed Mahmoud’s martyrs. One of them will be a bill to restructure the interior ministry which we will present to the government," Naguib said.
Talking from the main stage, prominent activist and physician Ahmed Harara spoke about the need to rehabilitate the interior ministry.
"We revolted because we saw policemen act as thugs. This garbage can of an institution must be purged," he told the crowd.
Harara lost both his eyes after being injured by birdshot fired by police, one in the January 2011 uprising against Mubarak, the other in Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in November 2011.
He stressed that the police must be held accountable by an independent entity, not by police officers or prosecutors whom he accused of covering up the former's crimes.
Similarly, leftist activist Mohamed Waked addressed the protesters, saying that the interior ministry is the main base of the current political system.
Waked argued that people were gathered not to passively commemorate the previous year’s martyrs, but to insist that the situation must change.
"We mustn’t make our future hostage to our fear of a group. What is happening to them now will happen to us in the future if the ministry of interior isn’t reformed," he stated, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, many of its top leaders now detained.
Forty-seven protesters were killed in the 2011 clashes and the government of then prime minister Essam Sharaf resigned, replaced by a cabinet headed by Mubarak-era prime minister Kamal El-Ganzouri.
Three - including Jika - were killed in the 2012 Mohamed Mahmoud anniversary clashes.
"There was no retribution; police officers are now dancing. Those who escaped after the 2011 revolution have returned," Amal Shaker, mother of protester Ahmed Zein El-Abedein, killed in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, told Ahram Online.
The Way of the Revolution Front, an anti-military, anti-Brotherhood group, is planning to commemorate the anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud with a march on the street on Tuesday evening.