Egyptian soldiers clashed with hundreds of rock-throwing protesters in central Cairo for a second consecutive day on Saturday, in a resurgence of turmoil just days after millions voted in parliamentary elections.
“The toll from incidents on Friday outside the cabinet offices reached 10 dead and 299 wounded,” said Adel Adawi, an aide to the health minister quoted by state news agency MENA.
A previous toll put the dead at three and injured at 257.
The clashes have underlined the simmering tensions between activists and security officers. The violence also threatened to spark a new cycle of fighting after deadly clashes between youth revolutionaries and security forces in November that lasted for days and left more than 40 dead.
Caretaker Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri further raised tensions by accusing the protesters of being counter-revolutionaries and denying that security forces had opened fire as they broke up the sit-in launched against his nomination last month.
After a full day of clashes Friday, hundreds of protesters hurled stones early Saturday at security forces that have sealed off the streets around the country’s parliament building with barbed wire and large concrete blocks. Soldiers on rooftops pelted the crowds below with stones, prompting many of the protesters to pick up helmets, satellite dishes or sheets of metal to try to protect themselves.
Witnesses said that soldiers chased protesters through the streets, forcing them to retreat to nearby Tahrir Square, which served as the epicenter of the uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February.
The violence first began late Thursday after soldiers stormed an antimilitary protest camp outside the Cabinet building near Tahrir Square, expelling demonstrators demanding an end to military rule and an immediate transfer of power to a civilian authority. Witnesses said troops snatched a protester, taking him into the parliament building and beating him. The troops later moved in, burning protesters’ tents.
Rights groups and activists charge that the military is carrying on the practices of the old regime, including arresting and beating dissidents.
MENA said around 300 people have been injured in the ongoing clashes.
Funerals were expected Saturday for those killed a day earlier. Among the dead was Sheik Emad Effat, a cleric from Al-Azhar, Egypt’s most eminent religious institution. Effat had taken a pro-revolutionary position, criticizing the military and issuing a religious decree forbidding voting for former members of the regime in elections. He was shot in the chest after joining the protesters outside the Cabinet.
Many Egyptians have grown increasingly wary of the military and frustrated with its handling of the country’s transition period, and many activists accuse it of trying to hang on to power.
Mustafa Ali, a protester who was wounded by pellet shot in clashes last month, on Saturday accused the ruling generals of instigating the violence to “find a justification to remain in power and divide up people into factions.”
In a statement read on state TV Friday night, the ruling military said its forces did not intend to break up the protest and said officers showed self-restraint, denying the used any gunfire. It said the clashes began when a military officer was attacked while on duty and protesters tried to break into the parliament compound.
The young activists who led the protests against Mubarak have not translated that success into results at the polls, where Islamist parties won a clear majority of seats in the first round of voting last month over the more liberal parties that emerged from the uprising. Results from this week’s second round are expected in the coming days, with the rest of the country set to vote next month.
Images of troops protecting polling centers and soldiers carrying the elderly to the polls have served to boost the military’s image as guardians of the country. The military remains the ultimate authority on all matters of state in absence of a president.
The second round of voting took place Wednesday and Thursday in nine of the country’s 27 provinces. It covered vast rural areas where the religious stand of Islamist parties has strong support.