At least 51 people were killed when supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsi used the revered anniversary of Egypt’s last war with Israel to stage one of their biggest protests since the state-led summer crackdowns against the country’s Islamists.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central Cairo to demand the reinstatement of Mr Morsi, triggering clashes with both the police and rival demonstrators who turned out to celebrate the military.
It was the bloodiest day of conflict in Egypt since the violent dispersal of two sit-in pro-Morsi protest camps on 14 August, and showed that despite a crackdown from harsh prison sentences to outright massacres against its supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies remain a force.
The Health Ministry confirmed the death toll of more than 50 across the country, with at least 40 of those dying in Cairo, as well as more than 240 injured. Police chiefs said 423 supporters of the ousted president had been arrested.
While the military is now firmly re-established as the pre-eminent source of power in the country –and there are calls for its leader General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run in presidential elections next year – the largely Islamist political forces which remain opposed to the current political transition can still command a sizeable following.
“There are 13 million people who voted for Mohamed Morsi and these people need to be represented,” said Sherif Taher, a senior member of the liberal Al Wafd Party. “This country will never find peace unless they are represented.”
Even as fighting continued in the streets, the military went ahead with its plans for lavish celebrations on the national holiday marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (often called the October War in Egypt) with Israel.
By attempting to rally on such a sensitive day, the pro-Morsi forces were playing with fire, and officials only moved to stoke up tensions. The interim President Adly Mansour’s media adviser said that anybody protesting would be doing the work of “foreign agents.”
Yesterday morning Egyptians woke to the sound of fighter jets roaring over the capital in a show of power, and in the evening a concert was played out live on state TV from a stadium in Cairo where pop stars sang pro-military anthems.
Sissi attended the show, joined by other senior armed forces personnel and Mr Mansour attended the show.
“There are those who think the military can be broken,” el-Sissi said in an address at the concert.
“You see the Pyramids? The military is like the Pyramids, because the Egyptian people are on its side.”