Deadly clashes erupted in Cairo on Sunday as pro-Morsi marches protesting against the military headed to Tahrir Square, where thousands were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war against Israel and voicing support for the army.
Confrontations also took place outside the capital, with the death toll rising to 28. At least 94 were injured in the melee.
According to health ministry official Khaled El-Khatib, 26 people were killed in Cairo, one in Beni Suef and one in Delga in Minya.
The interior ministry announced that at least 200 pro-Morsi supporters were arrested in their attempt to “storm Egyptian public squares” on Sunday.
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a coalition of Islamist forces supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, claimed that at least 11 protesters had been killed in clashes with security forces in Ramsis Street in central Cairo.
Backers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have staged thousand-strong marches in several parts of Cairo, Giza and other governorates.
Rallies took a violent turn in central Cairo’s Garden City and Giza’s Dokki district, where police fired rounds of teargas after local residents clashed during pro-Morsi protests heading towards Tahrir, eyewitnesses and Ahram Online reporters said. The sound of heavy gunfire was later reported.
Politician and former presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel told Aswat Masriya that she was physically assaulted and her car windows were smashed by pro-Morsi demonstrators while she was driving through Dokki on Sunday.
In Delga – a town south of Cairo held by Islamists until security forces raided it last month – a Brotherhood supporter was killed and at least three injured as a pro-Morsi march clashed with police. Protesters hurled stones at security officers near a police station, and officers responded with live fire.
Flexing its muscles, a pro-Morsi Islamist group urged followers to converge on Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising and 2012 demonstrations against Morsi’s rule.
However, police and army troops barred Islamist marches from reaching the capital’s major squares, as army jets and F-16 fighters hover in formations over Cairo, Alexandria and several other cities.
Almost two dozen Islamists were arrested early on Sunday in northeast Cairo while marching towards the Rabaa Al-Adawiya area, which security forces raided in mid-August to disperse a sizeable extended sit-in by Morsi loyalists, leaving hundreds dead.
The area, along with other major squares, has been sealed off to protesters since the police crackdown.
In Cairo’s Mohandeseen district, thousands of Morsi backers marched through the area, many flashing the four-finger Rabaa sign and chanting anti-army slogans, reported Ahram Online’s Sherif Tarek.
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy has repeatedly called for protests against the military’s overthrow of Morsi.
However, its ability to muster large crowds has tailed off as security forces have mounted a crackdown on Islamists, arresting hundreds of members and allies including Morsi himself.
Celebrations in Tahrir
A short distance away from the Ramses clashes in the flashpoint Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, an Ahram reporter said people were queuing to stream into the area to celebrate the national holiday. There was a celebratory atmosphere, but security is evident.
Protesters, many clad in T-shirts bearing the photo of army chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi or holding his picture, have converged on the square in their thousands as patriotic songs boom from loud speakers.
People walk through metal detectors and are thoroughly searched by police and army personnel as they enter the square, with only two entrances open. All other routes in are sealed off, according to Ahram Online’s Osman El-Sharnoubi.
Egypt’s army traditionally celebrates the October war against Israel – which eventually led to the recovery of the Sinai Peninsula – each year with military performances and flyovers, and the day is a public holiday.