Deaths, Arrests Mark 3rd Anniversary Of Egypt's Uprising

The third anniversary of Egypt's revolution was marked with violent clashes across the country between pro and anti-government demonstrators. By Sunday morning at least 49 people had been killed and more than 1,000 arrested.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Monday it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. In Egypt this past weekend, marked the third anniversary of the uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak, an uprising that brought jubilant scenes to Tahrir Square. This year, the anniversary was marked by violence.

INSKEEP: Thousands of people turned out in support of the military chief who wields enormous power in the government. Other people protested that government and were fired upon by security forces. Dozens of people were killed.

MONTAGNE: That comes just days after Amnesty International said the government commits abuses to crush dissent and there were also more militant attacks, with one group claiming it shot down a helicopter, killing five soldiers. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In central Cairo on Saturday, a small group of protesters regrouped after being dispersed violently by security forces. Most of these demonstrators appeared to be supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Slowly they began to march, knowing they would be dispersed again.

A woman calls out to the others to follow her. We are all one hand, she yells, against the military who are killing us.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED MEN AND WOMEN: (chanting in Arabic)

FADEL: Meanwhile, in downtown Cairo, a few hundred secular and revolutionary youth demonstrated. Many are the same young people that spearheaded the marches in 2011 that led to Hosni Mubarak's ouster. They too chanted against the military, but made clear they are also against the Brotherhood. But it didn't matter. Police drove through and broke up the gathering, shooting and firing teargas. Armed men in plainclothes blocked the path to Tahrir Square. And when the protesters tried to regroup they were met with this...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

FADEL: The message from the military-backed government was clear: you are either with us or against us.

Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the liberal Dustour party, stood with the secular revolutionary youth.

KHALED DAWOUD: There is obviously no distinction, no tolerance of any sort of opinion right now except for one single opinion that's repeated by the state in support of a certain particular candidate - that's Defense Minister General al-Sissi - to become president of Egypt.

FADEL: He refers to Egypt's military chief and new icon General Abdel Fattah el Sissi. Dawoud supported the military overthrow on July 3rd. But now he says the machinery of the Mubarak state has reemerged to be the force behind Sissi. As gunfire rang out here, it was a party in Tahrir Square and near the presidential palace. The military tightly controlled security.

People wore gold Sissi masks and carried his pictures as they called for him to run for president. Military helicopters dropped flags from the sky and if you weren't out to support the army you weren't welcome in the square. Outside the presidential palace Amr al-Kayal walked with his two children and his wife Mona. He came out on Saturday for one reason.

AMR AL-KAYAL: To say that the majority of our people are supporting Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to be the president of Egypt.

FADEL: Around him people chanted for the execution of the Brotherhood. They are terrorists, people said. They are setting off bombs in Cairo. The Brotherhood denies that. A militant group based in the Sinai Peninsula, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the bombings over the weekend and for downing an Egyptian military helicopter with a surface-to-air-missile, a frightening escalation.

David Barnett is a research associate at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He studies Ansar Beit al Maqdis and he says there is no evidence to connect the Brotherhood to the group. Egypt's government, he says, is using these attacks to demonize political opponents.

DAVID BARNETT: The government sees this as an easy domestic out because it plays well within the country. The problem is, is it doesn't play well with reality.

FADEL: But critics are being silenced and the major Egyptian press has gotten in line with the government, touting wins against what they call Brotherhood terrorists. Interim president Adly Mansour announced that presidential elections will come before parliamentary elections, a change in the schedule, apparently tailored for a Sissi candidacy. And the majority of Egyptians say they will support Sissi if he runs for president because they believe it will lead to security and stability. And in this political climate, analysts say, the rest of Egypt will have to support him or be deemed a traitor.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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