Although prominent cleric Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen tried to mediate a truce between protesters and security forces on Sunday, both sides nevertheless locked horns again in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the third consecutive day on Monday.
Calls for Egypt’s ruling military council to step down have only grown louder, meanwhile, with a million-man march now slated for Tuesday.
Shaheen said he had sat down with police commanders on Sunday and persuaded them to release six demonstrators arrested during the last two days of bloody confrontations. He also tried to persuade protesters and police to halt attacks on each other – but, evidently, to no avail.
Thousands of protesters were in the square this morning, refusing to leave the revolution’s epicentre. Some attempted to march to the nearby interior ministry building, with security forces responding with teargas and gunfire.The numbers of protesters have been swelling since daybreak, reaching some 20,000 by early evening.
At one point, a group of young men met struck metal traffic signs with wooden rods and stones at the entrance of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads to the interior ministry building and which has witnessed the fiercest clashes since Saturday.
The recurrent clashes now resemble trench warfare, with multitudes of protesters swarming towards the interior ministry before being pushed back by teargas-firing security forces. Gunfire continues to echo throughout the area.
Numerous demonstrators have suffered the effects of teargas, including suffocation, with several being taken to ambulances near the Mogamma, Cairo’s largest administrative building, and to makeshift field hospitals.
Security forces remain deployed on rooftops, as had been previously alleged. From these vantage points, teargas canisters rained down on protesters who continued their back-and-forth attacks and retreats for several hours. Some of them set fire to tyres strewn in the street.
According to Reuters, the total death toll from the last three days of violence has reached at least 33, while the number of injured has been put at roughly 1500.
Despite the turmoil, revolutionary forces have begun to articulate their demands. A large banner hung in the square’s central island this morning reads, “The people want a civilian presidential council.”
Another banner reads, “Al-Azhar wants the end of military rule.” The banner was hung by a handful of Al-Azhar scholars, but does not necessarily reflect the institution’s official position.
“We’ve yet to officially come up with our list of demands, but, basically, we want a national salvation government, the departure of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the release of revolutionary detainees,” Khaled Abdel Hamid, a leading figure in the Revolution Youth Coalition (RYC), told Ahram Online on Monday. “I think these demands can be met if the varied political forces unite and support those currently holding Tahrir.”
The RYC, along with 37 other political parties and movements, have announced plans to stage a million-man march in Tahrir Square on Tuesday to reiterate these and other demands.
Meanwhile, football fan groups, dubbed the “Ultras,” are outraged at the killing of some of their fellows by police during the clashes.
Vowing revenge on Sunday, they toured Tahrir Square bearing coffins of their murdered colleagues. “As some of us were killed, we will finish off some of theirs,” one anonymous Ultra told Ahram Online on Sunday. “And as they treated the bodies of our colleagues disrespectfully, so we will treat theirs.”
A widely circulated online video depicts a policeman dragging the body of a young man, who appears to have just been killed. The body of the young man – believed to have been an Ultras member – is eventually dumped on a trash pile.
On their official Facebook page, however, the Ultras Ahlawy – diehard fans of the Ahly football team – denied that any of their members had been killed in the clashes.
Egypt’s three major Ultras groups – Ultras Ahlawy, the White Knights and the Yellow Dragons – all took part in the January revolution, with many at the forefront of the bloody clashes between protesters and police forces. In the nine months since, the Ultras’ relationship with police has deteriorated dramatically.