So far Islamists, who made huge gains during the first two stages of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, have largely stayed away from Tahrir Square. The preeminent Islamic religious institution, al-Azhar, had yet to comment on the death of one of its own, Sheikh Emad Effat, who was killed by gunfire. Thousands mourned him at his funeral Saturday.
The April 6 Democratic Front, a breakaway group of the April 6 youth movement, one of the main orchestrators of the 18-day uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, called for Egypt’s military chiefs to be prosecuted for the protesters’ deaths.
“They are killing the revolutionaries as Mubarak did, and they deserve to be in the cage like him,” a statement from the group said.
The unrest marked a peak in a fluctuating cycle of violence in recent months between security forces and protesters who are demanding that the country’s interim military rulers make good on their promise to oversee a transition to democratic rule.
Few of the demands from the dizzying days of the winter revolt that ousted Mubarak have been fulfilled. Egypt’s security agencies have not been reformed. The despised emergency law that authorized the indefinite detention of civilians has been expanded, rather than voided. Accusations of grave human rights abuses at the hands of the military rulers rival those that came to light during Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Meanwhile, many observers say, the country’s economy is imploding.
“There is no resolution in sight. It’s just a vacuum that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is not able to fill,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert at the New York-based Century Foundation. “They’ve shown they cannot calm the waters. There is a political crisis.”
On Saturday, a growing number of political leaders condemned the military rulers for allowing and in some cases encouraging the violence to spiral out of control. The latest clashes represent the worst unrest in Cairo since more than 42 people were killed in six days of fighting between security forces and protesters last month. An investigation was promised then, but no one from the security forces has been held accountable.
As protests spread to the port city of Alexandria, some political parties called for united action against the military council.