Rival Rallies Mark Third Anniversary Of Egypt Uprising

8:53 AM, Jan 25, 2014   |    comments
Photo: AP
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Sarah Lynch, Special for USA TODAY


CAIRO -- Rival rallies kicked off here Saturday on the third anniversary of the nation's uprising, raising fears of more violence a day after a string of deadly blasts shook the capital.

Security forces heightened their presence across Cairo, flying military helicopters overhead and blocking major roads including those leading to Tahrir Square, the heart of the 18-day uprising against longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

An anti-coup alliance led by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for anti-government demonstrations to begin at more than 30 meeting points citywide following midday prayers. Over the past six months the Brotherhood has continued to protest in Egypt's streets, claiming the nation's current leaders have no legitimacy.

"People wouldn't give up demanding freedom and dignity," the anti-coup alliance said on Twitter ahead of Saturday's protests.

The Brotherhood's resolve is rooted in a military coup that forced the movement out of power last summer. After Mubarak's 2011 ouster, the Brotherhood was the nation's most popular political force, winning the most seats of any party in a parliamentary vote. Then Mohamed Morsi, one of the Brotherhood's own, was elected president in 2012 in a major turning point for a movement that was repressed for years under Mubarak.

But the tides dramatically shifted again when millions rose up against Morsi last year in anger over his leadership. Egypt's army chief took charge, a constitution drafted under Morsi was suspended, the nation's legislature was dissolved and Morsi was swept into detention. Supporters of the power shift refer to it as the "June 30 Revolution."

Authorities, with seemingly widespread support, now consider the Brotherhood a terrorist group and are intensifying a crackdown on any political opposition.

"The Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights," Amnesty International said in a scathing report released earlier this week.

"Three years on, the demands of the '25 January Revolution' for dignity and human rights seem further away than ever," said Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program. "Several of its architects are behind bars and repression and impunity are the order of the day."

But the nation's military and interim leaders are solidly backed by Egyptians who believe Egypt's army chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, saved the nation from civil war between opposing political groups - and from the Muslim Brotherhood - when he ousted Morsi last summer.

"Sisi is a good man," said Mohammed Karim, who works in a shop on Tahrir Square and backs Egypt's leaders. On Saturday, he said, "you're going to see millions in the streets" to celebrate the university of the 2011 uprising.

Egypt's interior minister has urged Egyptians to take to the streets to commemorate the Jan. 25 uprising, which authorities say was protected by last summer's June 30 Revolution.

"The June 30th revolution took place in order to put the January 25th revolution back on the right track after some forces tried to hijack it for personal gain," Egyptian President Adly Mansour said in a speech.

"The revolution came to mend a rift that was caused by the malfeasance of some leaders and individuals who erred from their responsibility to protect this nation and its people," he said. "They abused their power, which was granted to them only to protect and serve the people."

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an al-Qaeda inspired group, claimed responsibility for a string of deadly attacks that tore through the capital Friday, according to the monitoring service SITE, which tracks international terrorists. The organization, which is based in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula, also attempted to assassinate Egypt's interior minister last summer.

The first blast resounded in Egypt's capital Friday around dawn outside a police headquarters in downtown Cairo. Two separate explosions followed almost immediately on the opposite side of the Nile, which runs through the capital, the state news agency MENA reported. A fourth blast took place later in the day in an attack on a police convoy. Six were killed in the blasts and dozens were wounded, the state news agency reported.

In addition, clashes between protesters and security forces Friday killed 14 people, Reuters reported.

Early Saturday, another bomb went off near a Cairo police institution, but caused no casualties, spokesman for the Interior Ministry told the Associated Press.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemned the attacks Friday, and urged Americans to be alert and limit their movements ahead of Saturday's rallies.

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