A million-strong protest in Egypt turned violent on Friday October 12, when clashes broke out in Cairo's Tahrir Square between President Mohamed Morsi's opponents and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Organized by secularists, political forces, and revolutionary youth-activists, the protest dubbed "Accountability Friday" was called in order to demand a more egalitarian constitution and express anger at Morsi's record in his first 100 days in office.
They accuse him of failing to fulfill his campaign pledges to tackle issues such as security, traffic, fuel, bread, and garbage collection.
Ahead of Friday's protest, Morsi gave a nationwide televised speech defending his policies. He insisted that he had delivered on most of the pledges in his100-day plan, including those related to security, traffic and garbage.
Controversial Acquittals Spark Violence
Morsi’s supporters were protesting against the acquittal of former regime loyalists in the "Battle of the Camels" case, when men riding camels and horses charged at peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011.
The acquittal of all the suspects, including senior members of the former regime, in this high-profile case sparked a new wave of anger among Islamist groups and youth-revolutionaries alike. They have repeatedly called for "kassas," or retribution for the martyrs of the revolution.
Eager to dampen public outrage over this ahead of Friday's protests, President Morsi promised there would be a retrial, and ordered the dismissal of the Mubarak-appointed Public Prosecutor Mahmoud Abdel Meguid.
A spokesman from the Public Prosecutor's office, however, has said that Abdel Meguid would not step down.
Morsi’s supporters defended the Islamists’ actions in Tahrir Square on Friday as “a response to provocation.”
“They were chanting anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans and hurling insults at the President,” said Ahmed Mohamed Fayed, a Muslim Brotherhood and local council member.
Liberal activists in turn accused the Muslim Brotherhood of instigating the violence. "They came to break up our protest and divert attention away from our demands, which include justice for the martyrs and the purging of the judiciary and the media," said Abdel Rahman Mohamed, a young architect from the liberal camp.
Revolutionary forces have been further angered by multiple acquittals of police officers accused of killing over 800 protesters during the January, 25, 2011 mass uprising. They want to see the police officers involved retried, and believe that Mubarak and his entourage deserve harsher sentences.
On Wednesday, Morsi granted amnesty to all political detainees tried in military courts in the initial phase of the post-revolutionary transitional period. While their release was one of the revolutionaries’ key demands, many felt Morsi's decision was "too little, too late," and said they would continue to pressure the Islamist president until they see "justice done."
"We also want the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly to be disbanded," Mohamed added, expressing concern that "the draft constitution threatens to undermine women’s rights by linking gender equality with Islamic jurisprudence."
Legitimacy in Question
A Cairo court is expected to rule later this month on the legality of the Constituent Assembly – the 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution. Critics argue that it is illegitimate, as many of its members were selected by a parliament that has since been dissolved.
"Political forces have come to express their dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reforms and the government's lack of transparency," explained 23-year-old Ahmed Hassan, an architecture student at Helwan University. "We also want to express our frustration with the decision to grant top military generals a safe exit," he said.
October 9 marked the first anniversary of the “Maspero" protests in which 27 protesters – mostly Copts demanding the protection of their churches – were killed by the army outside Egypt's State Television building.
Revolutionary activists hold Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan, responsible for the massacre.
They argue that it took place on their watch, when the country was under their control and are calling for their prosecution. Morsi dismissed the two top generals in August following a militant attack on a border post in North Sinai that killed 16 border guards.
The 'Stolen' Revolution
Waving their fists in the air, anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters in the square meanwhile chanted "You have sold out the revolution, Badie!"
Mohamed Badie is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide and the opposition use this slogan to suggest that the Islamist movement "stole the revolution."
"The people support the President's decision to dismiss the Public Prosecutor," yelled Morsi supporters, in an attempt to drown out the voices of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protestors.
A fresh exchange of rock-throwing ensued, resulting in scores of injuries. Wounded youths, their faces bloodied, were ferried on motorbikes and carried by fellow protesters to ambulances parked outside the square.
"We've received a steady stream of injured young people in the last couple of hours," said an emergency medic, tending to the facial wounds of a man who had just been brought in.
Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails, triggering a stampede and resulting in more injuries. Some mistook the sound of firecrackers (which appeared to be coming from nearby streets) for gunshots, causing further panic.
According to a Health Ministry source, at least 121 people were injured in the October 12 clashes. The protesters included large numbers of unemployed young people and seasonal workers who are frustrated with high living costs and lack of opportunities on the jobs market.
"I have three children. What has Morsi done for my family?" asked Amr Menaweesh, an unemployed mechanic. "Tell him we are waiting for him to fulfill his promises."
Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors.