CAIRO: Security forces sprayed protesters with water hoses and tear gas outside the presidential palace Monday as Egyptians marked the second anniversary of the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s with angry demonstrations against his elected successor.
The forces were trying to disperse a small crowd of protesters after some of them attempted to cross a barbed wire barrier meant to block them from the palace gate. Some protesters chanted: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Others threw stones.
Graffiti scribbled on the palace walls read: “Erhal” or “Leave,” the chant that echoed through Cairo’s central Tahrir Square during the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak stepping down on Feb. 11, 2011.
Earlier, masked men briefly blocked trains at a central Cairo subway station and a dozen other protesters blocked traffic with burning tires on a main overpass in Cairo. Hundreds rallied outside the office of the country’s chief prosecutor demanding justice and retribution for protesters killed in clashes with security forces after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took office last summer.
The protesters lobbed plastic bags filled with red liquid at the prosecutor’s office to recall the blood spilled by civilians in clashes with security forces. His appointment by Morsi was criticized as a violation of the judiciary’s independence. Another group of protesters locked shut the doors of the main administrative building for state services just outside the subway station at Tahrir Square.
Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since Mubarak’s ouster, in an uprising driven largely by anger over widespread abuse at the hands of state security agencies. After he stepped down, Mubarak was replaced by a ruling military council that was in power for 17 months. The rule of the generals was marred by violence and criticism that the council mismanaged the transitional period.
Morsi won the first free elections in June. But he and his Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to be Egypt’s most powerful political group post-Mubarak, are now facing the wrath of Egyptians who drove the 2011 revolt but who say few of their goals have been realized.
For many in Egypt, the past two years have only increased frustration, with the economy deteriorating as political bickering between a largely secular opposition and a tightly organized and conservative Islamist bloc obstructed progress.
Protesters are particularly angry over the continued heavy handedness of security services, claiming little has changed since the Mubarak era. Many accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and ignoring the demands of the secular and liberal groups who were the backbone of the uprising.
On Monday, government opponents marched to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising which has been sealed off by protesters since November. Others went to the presidential palace. Hundreds also marched through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.
“Of course I feel disappointed. Every day it’s getting worse,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a 20-year-old engineering student protesting outside the presidential palace. “The economy is even worse and all government institutions are collapsing. Morsi won’t even acknowledge this.”
Doaa Mustafa, a 33-year-old housewife, said she is willing to stay on the streets until Morsi steps down, as Mubarak did.
“We’re here so that Mohammed Morsi, the dictator, will leave. He is just as bad as Mubarak, if not worse.”
The protesters are also demanding the amendment of the country’s new constitution. They claim that Islamists rushed the charter through the approval process despite disagreement with the opposition. The result, they say, was a charter that undermines freedoms of expression and belief and chips away at women rights.
Some protesters are also demanding a new Cabinet, accusing the current government of being ineffective and failing to rein in police abuses or institute economic reforms. One of the most heated issues for protesters remains a lack of accountability for those responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians during protests against the state.
Morsi and his supporters have repeatedly dismissed the opposition’s charges, accusing them and Mubarak supporters of trying to topple a democratically elected president.
After seven months in office, Morsi’s popularity has fallen some 10 percent to 53 percent, according to pollster Magued Osman of the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research. The poll was conducted via telephone interviews with more than 2,300 participants and had a margin of error of less than 3 percent. Only 39 percent of those polled said they would elect Morsi again if there were new elections, compared to 50 percent a month earlier.
Prominent opposition figure Amr Moussa urged Morsi to reconsider his views of the opposition, telling a late night TV program Sunday that it is “the wrong assessment” to view the rising street anger against Morsi as a “conspiracy” to topple him.
An increasingly violent wave of protests has spread outside of the capital in recent weeks as political initiatives failed to assuage the anger.
The recent explosion of violence began on the second anniversary of the start of the uprising on Jan.25.
It accelerated with riots in the Suez Canal city of Port Said by youths furious over death sentences issued against local soccer fans over a bloody stadium riot a year ago. Around 70 were killed in this wave of clashes, while violent mob attacks against women protesters increasingly marred gatherings at Tahrir Square.
On Monday, members of the human rights commission of the Islamist-dominated legislative assembly said women should have specific areas for protesting, criticizing them for rallying among men and in areas considered unsafe. They called for the passing of a new law to regulate protesting, and enable the police to protect women, according to the state news agency MENA.
Crowds at Monday’s protests were relatively small and the violence muted.
Also on Monday, the U.S. urged protesters and security forces to show restraint and renewed a call for dialogue.
“We continue to support a broad dialogue between Egypt’s leaders and the various political stakeholders to work through the various issues of concern, because there needs to be a strong national consensus in Egypt about the way forward,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We want to see peace on the street.”