Egyptian security forces fired tear gas and birdshot on hundreds of protesters Monday in Cairo, an indication of rising tensions in the country one week before deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi goes on trial, charged with inciting murder.
The protesters, largely students from the venerable religious Al-Azhar University, were stopped by a line of armoured personnel carriers and a detachment of Special Operations Police as the demonstrators were about to march past the reviewing stand where Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
Police rushed reinforcements to the scene, just two blocks from the Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque where several hundred Islamist protesters were killed in August in a clampdown against supporters of Mr. Morsi. The police on Monday opened fire when the crowd, chanting “down with the military” and waving yellow flags with the four-finger symbol of the Rabaa siege, refused to disperse. No casualties were reported.
Protests have been limited in nature in Egypt in the two months since the bloody August crackdown. Usually involving no more than a few hundred demonstrators, the protests start at unannounced points around the capital and other cities and march to some iconic site. Invariably they are intercepted by police forces at some stage and made to disperse, usually without the use of firearms.
But the level of violence is likely to increase as the Morsi trial approaches.
Earlier Monday, three policemen were killed in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura when masked gunmen attacked a checkpoint near Mansoura University, scene of violent clashes last week between supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi.
The state-run al-Ahram newspaper reported that three men in a car and another on a motorcycle opened fire on the police shortly before dawn. Some 60 shell casings were reportedly found at the site.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though al-Qaeda-linked jihadists, operating in the Sinai Peninsula in northeastern Egypt, have carried out similar attacks against security personnel. The group, known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, also recently claimed credit for car bombings in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia that wounded six soldiers and for the attempted assassination of Egypt’s Interior Minister in downtown Cairo; these developments indicate their area of operations has expanded.
The army-backed interim government insists it is fighting a war against terrorism. Interim President Adly Mansour was quoted recently by the state news agency as telling General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army leader who ousted Mr. Morsi on July 3, that “imposing security was the main priority at this important stage.”
The security forces make little distinction between the Sinai-based terrorists and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which Mr. Morsi hailed. They have launched a fierce campaign against the Brotherhood, killing hundreds of its members and arresting more than 2,000. The Brotherhood denies any connection to the violent attacks.
Workers at the Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque, Monday, were putting the finishing touches to a remarkably speedy repair of the building that was all but destroyed in the Aug. 14 assault by the police. Shortly before the day’s protest began, workers were seen sweeping up the last of the dust and broken bricks at the gate to the facility.