Deadly riots erupt in Egypt on second anniversary of revolt

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CAIRO -- Violence erupted across the country Friday as Egyptians marked the second anniversary of their revolution with an outpouring of rage against the power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At least seven people were killed in the canal city of Suez, state news media reported. More than 250 people were injured as protesters clashed with security forces around government facilities across the country, including the Interior Ministry headquarters, the state television building and the presidential palace in Cairo. And unidentified assailants attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities, including Cairo, the Delta town of Demanhour and the canal town of Ismailia, where the group was founded 85 years ago.

The chaos was the clearest demonstration yet of the chasm of animosity and distrust dividing the Brotherhood and its foes.

Although the Islamists of the Brotherhood have dominated elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak two years ago, another broad segment of the population harbors deep suspicions of the group's conservative ideology, hierarchical structure and insular ethos. Those doubts were redoubled last month, when President Mohammed Morsi, with the Brotherhood's political party, temporarily overruled the judiciary's authority to ensure that his allies could push through an Islamist-backed constitution to a referendum, despite objections from other parties and the Coptic Christian Church.

On Friday, five months after Mr. Morsi took power from Egypt's interim military rulers, the demonstrators' main complaint was that the Islamists had failed to fulfill the social welfare and social justice demands of the original uprising. A banner in the center of the square called for repeal of the Islamist-backed constitution, passed in a referendum last month, which opponents say failed to enshrine ironclad guarantees of individual freedoms.

"The Egyptian people had so many dreams, and the reality on the ground is everything is still the same," said teacher Mohamed Adl, 41, who carried a sign with a handwritten poem accusing the Brotherhood of making "injustice the guard of our lives."

Protesters at times seemed to be re-enacting scenes from the 18-day revolt in 2011 that toppled Mubarak. The loudest chants were recycled from the revolution -- "Leave, leave" and "The people want the fall of the regime." Others were adapted to focus on the Islamist party, demanding an end to "rule by the supreme guide," Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's spiritual leader.

By early afternoon in Cairo, a few dozen protesters at one corner of the square -- many apparently teenagers -- had begun to throw rocks over a cement barrier at security forces massed around the Interior Ministry building, resuming an intermittent battle that had begun the day before in anticipation of the anniversary. The security officers, as they typically do, threw back some rocks, and tear gas sailed overhead past a church steeple up the street.

Osama Amir, 22, a student leaving the fight, said he did not know how it started or why, but "people have lost confidence in the central security forces, so when there is a chance to beat them up, we will beat them up."

Both the Brotherhood and its foes are looking ahead to parliamentary elections expected in April, and Brotherhood critics contended that its community service drive was in part an effort to curry favor with needy voters. The opposition had poured most of its energy into Friday's demonstrations, and its critics said it was once again wasting time on street protests, while the Islamists had already turned their attention to the electoral battle.

"It is important that people go down to the square, if for no other reason than to remind Egypt, and themselves, that something really special happened during those 18 days two years ago," said Cairo-based Brookings Institution researcher H.A. Hellyer. "That energy, however, can't stay in the square; it's got to be channeled."

But some demonstrators argued that the public protests were a step to build a more potent political movement that might someday counterbalance the Islamists. "Nothing tangible will come of today, and I don't think anything tangible will happen with the elections," said retired marketing consultant Ayman Roshdy, 57. "But there is hope. What is happening today is part of the process of building hope."

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