By Hamza Hendawi
CAIRO: Clashes erupted Sunday between Egypt’s security forces and supporters of the ousted president, leaving 44 dead.
Rival crowds of supporters of the military and backers of the deposed Islamist Mohammed Morsi had poured into streets around the country to mark a major holiday.
The capital, Cairo, saw multiple scenes of mayhem as street battles raged for hours in some neighborhoods, with Morsi supporters firing birdshot and throwing firebombs at police, who responded with gunshots and tear gas.
In some cases, pro-military crowds set upon supporters of the former president, with the two sides pelting each other with rocks. By late evening, several parts of the city resembled combat zones, with fires burning, black smoke rising and the crack of gunfire piercing the air, thick with tear gas. Streets were strewn with debris.
The Health Ministry reported 40 people killed in Cairo and four others killed in provinces south of Cairo, with more than 240 people injured. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 423 Morsi supporters were detained across the nation.
The clashes took place on the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 war with Israel, a holiday the military-backed government had wanted to use to pay tribute to the armed forces, whose chief ousted Morsi in a popularly supported coup on July 3.
Turmoil has roiled the country since the ouster in February 2011 of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, and the latest clashes are certain to set back efforts by the government to revive the economy — especially the vital tourism sector — and bring order to the streets of Cairo, where crime and lawlessness have been rife.
The scattered fighting contrasted sharply with a carnival-like mood in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where thousands of supporters of the military waved Egyptian flags, blew whistles and touted posters of Army Chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Adding to the festivities, a military band in green jackets and off-white pants played, and men spun in whirling dervish-style dances.
Earlier in the day, soldiers had barricaded entrances to central Tahrir Square with barbed wire and armored personnel vehicles. Metal detectors were installed at the entrances and demonstrators pouring into the square were searched by troops.
Late on Sunday, el-Sissi and interim President Adly Mansour attended a fireworks extravaganza at a military-owned stadium in eastern Cairo.
El-Sissi’s predecessor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was among those attending the ceremony, making his first public appearance since Morsi removed him and his chief of staff in August last year. Tantawi served Hosni Mubarak as defense minister for 20 years and took over the reins of the country when his mentor was ousted in a 2011 uprising.