Six killed in anniversary protests across Egypt
At least six people were killed on Thursday and tens arrested as police moved to suppress small-scale demonstrations organized by Islamists across Egyptian cities to mark the anniversary of last year's mass killings of protesters.
Hundreds were killed on 14 August 2013 when security forces violently cleared the sizeable protest camps set up by supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, in one of the bloodiest incidents in Egypt's modern history.
Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report this week about the killings, saying authorities committed what probably amounts to crimes against humanity and calling for a UN probe. The New-York based group said at least 817 were killed in the main Rabaa sit-in alone, comparing the dispersal to the 1989 massacre of protesters around China's Tiananmen Square.
Official government estimates put the death toll from both sit-ins at over 600.
Islamists' street presence has significantly tailed off as Morsi loyalists have struggled to drum up support amid a relentless security crackdown since the army overthrew Morsi in July 2013. Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed in street showdowns over the past year and thousands others jailed, with many facing hurried trials on charges of violence.
The pro-Morsi group the Anti-Coup Alliance had called for nationwide rallies on Thursday under the banner of "We Demand Retribution" – but the scattered protests were swiftly quelled by police.
Still, five protesters died in clashes on Thursday, according to a security source and Al-Ahram's Arabic news website.
Two people were shot dead during confrontations between alleged pro-Morsi protesters and riot police in Giza. Another two were killed when supporters and opponents of the ousted president clashed in a northern Cairo district. A fifth died after clashes between protesters and police in the south of Cairo, a security source and Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported.
The sixth fatality was a police sergeant, who was killed early on Thursday in the south district of Helwan when unknown assailants fired on his private car and then fled.
A police statement said 23 explosive devices were defused and 114 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested on Thursday in several governorates including Cairo, Giza, Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Minya and Beni Suef.
"Today is a typical, recurrent scene that is emblematic of the stark contrast between desire and capability," Ammar Ali Hassan, an Islamist thinker and analyst, said.
"The Muslim Brotherhood has spoken of vast numbers and tremendous changes and they wind up having weak scattered protests punctuated by violence that eventually achieve nothing," Hassan added.
The Brotherhood rose to power in 2012 after decades in the shadows of successive governments. But the group fell from grace a year later when the military ousted its leader Morsi after millions protested against his rule, accusing him of power grabbing and mismanaging the country's battered economy.
Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the army chief who led Morsi's overthrow, became Egypt's president after a landslide electoral victory in May.
Security forces used tear gas on Thursday to disperse small protests in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities as demonstrators set tyres alight and blocked major roads while chanting against the military and raising the four-fingered Rabaa salute, a symbol of Islamists' defiance.
Similar skirmishes were reported in the Nile Delta and southern governorates of Qena and Minya.
More than 60 were arrested nationwide and over a dozen injured, according to state news agency MENA.
"At first the [Islamist] street movement used to confuse security forces and was quicker than the police," Hassan argued. "Police used to react. Now they take the first move."
Once Egypt's largest and most organised political movement, Morsi's Brotherhood has been dilapidated by the worst crackdown in its 85-year history since Morsi's removal.
Morsi and much of the group's upper echelons are embroiled in multiple court cases over charges including murder. At the same time, dozens of prominent pro-democracy activists have been targeted in the crackdown, with many serving jail sentences on charges that include illegal protesting, signifying the state's little to zero tolerance for dissent.