CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian jetfighters staged celebratory flights over Cairo on Sunday, ushering in a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the nation’s last war with Israel on a day when rival rallies by supporters and opponents of the ousted Islamist president carry the potential for violence.
Security forces have been deployed across much of the Egyptian capital in anticipation of clashes, with thousands of troops and police manning checkpoints.
Oct. 6 has long been a major national holiday but the streets of Cairo, a city of 18 million, were uncharacteristically empty by late morning as many residents stayed home to avoid being caught up in possible clashes. Only the scream of some two dozen, low-flying F-16s that rattled the city broke the quiet.
Sunday’s rallies in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak, are likely flashpoints. Authorities have vowed not to allow supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi into the square and police and troops have erected barricades at all entrances to the sprawling plaza in the heart of the city. Morsi’s supporters are threatening to force their way into the square.
The possibility of bloodshed on an occasion revered by most Egyptians is seen as a sign of the schism that began to surface soon after Morsi’s narrow election victory in June 2012. He was ousted in a July 3 coup that followed demonstrations by millions of Egyptians demanding that he step down.
Sunday’s faceoff will be the latest episode in the turmoil roiling Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011. The military-backed government has since Morsi’s departure rounded up at least 2,000 members of his Muslim Brotherhood, including most of the Islamist group’s leaders. A crackdown on sit-in protest camps by Morsi’s supporters and subsequent violence left at least 1,000 people dead.
Brotherhood supporters have since been staging near daily protests to demand Morsi’s reinstatement. Their numbers have greatly dwindled in recent weeks but they have been energetically mobilizing for Sunday’s rallies, claiming that they want to celebrate the war’s anniversary while denouncing the military leadership that toppled Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president.
The Brotherhood claims that its protests are peaceful, but there have over the past three months been cases when Morsi’s supporters have carried and used firearms, clubs or firebombs.
Liberal politician Khaled Dawoud was attacked by a mob of Morsi supporters this weekend when he was inadvertently caught up in a protest. He said he tried to drive away from the scene but heavy traffic allowed his pursuers to catch up and break his car’s windows with rocks.
Dawoud said they stabbed him several times, including once near his heart, and attempted to saw off his left hand. Dawoud, who is the spokesman for the liberal al-Dustour party led by reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, remains hospitalized.
Dawoud relentlessly campaigned against Morsi’s rule but has also criticized the violent crackdown against the Brotherhood and the media’s vilification of the group.
It is rare for a figure as prominent as Dawoud to be caught up directly in the widespread political violence. Apart from the bloodshed, the deep political divisions among Egyptians are manifested in a multitude of ways every day as supporters of the military seek to ostracize Brotherhood members in government departments, the education system and trade unions, with heated arguments and fist fights now commonplace.
Violence has meanwhile continued in the northern part of Egypt’s strategic Sinai peninsula, where militants, some with al-Qaida links, have been targeting security forces with growing frequency in what is fast becoming a full-fledged insurgency.
A pair of suspected militants on Sunday killed a policeman in the coastal city of El-Arish in northern Sinai. Army troops also fired on a car near the border with Gaza. Gunmen inside the vehicle returned fire before they fled the scene. At least 10 explosive devices prepared to be remotely detonated were found in the car, according to security officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.