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3 Feb, 2012 22:49

Egypt: Pitched battles rage

Violence is escalating once again in Egypt, where five people have been killed and reportedly 1051 injured, including both police and civilians. At least one Egyptian government building has reportedly been set ablaze.

Egyptian state television showed a "fire in the Tax Authority building, opposite the Interior Ministry," Agence France-Presse reported, but neither provided details as to the cause of the blaze.However, Cairo's Interior Ministry building was the site of a ten-thousand strong rally that turned violent Thursday. Thousands of angry protesters arrived there again after Friday day prayers. RIA Novosti reported earlier that people had gathered in three columns and moved towards Cairo’s Tahrir Square.After two days of clashes, three people have been killed in Cairo from tear gas inhalation, while two more were killed in the city of Suez when police opened fire on a protest.The Egyptian Ministry of Health estimates that as many as 1,690 people have been injured across the country.Earlier Friday, the Interior Ministry reported that 16 policemen had been injured by gunfire in central Cairo.The news agency said some of the angriest protesters have flooded streets close to the Interior Ministry building. A few hours ago police were reported to have sent a fleet of armored vehicles to the scene, which have been firing tear gas. Groups of youths have responded with stones and Molotov cocktails.The demonstrators assuered they did not want to storm the ministry, but to hold a sit-in in front of it to protest the soccer deaths, AP reported.In the second day of clashes provoked by Wednesday’s tragedy, furious demonstrators made their way to the Interior Ministry building stopping 20 meters from its front door, according to RIA Novosty.“It's a total uprising,” Egyptian activist Ahmed Salah told RT. “And it's all over the country – there are clashes everywhere. The security [forces are] shooting people everywhere,” he said.  “You have people not only in Tahrir. People are putting the Interior Ministry under siege from every street.Over ten thousand people are trying to put the actual Ministry of Defense – the SCAF headquarters – under siege. It has a very formidable barrier, and we have never been able to make it there before. They've always managed to stop us before we arrive.”Protests are also continuing in the city of Suez, where crowds are venting their anger over the failure of police to prevent the post-match stadium riot which claimed the lives of 79 on Wednesday and left hundreds injured. It was the worst soccer violence the world has seen in 15 years.Meanwhile, The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a statement on Friday evening calling on the Egyptian people to unite against those trying to escalate the situation. The statement called on all political players to swiftly intervene in order to bring stability and protect the "country's institutions" by preventing “malicious elements” from causing more damage either in lives or private and public property.Russia’s Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over the new violations  and has called for “all political forces” and “high-ranking officials” not to allow an escalation of the conflict and to solve it through dialogue.A new wave of clashes between police and protesters flared on Thursday evening when some 10,000 angry protesters pushed their way through barbed wire barriers to the Interior Ministry building near Tahrir Square. Security forces responded by firing tear gas at demonstrators.  Outraged protesters blame security forces for the tragedy, which claimed the lives of 79 people and left hundreds more injured. The demonstrators are now calling for Egypt's ruling military council, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to surrender power.

Egyptian football fans played an important role in the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime, taking a central part in demonstrations across the country. Now, furious over the deadly brawl at Port Said Stadium, they are directing their anger towards police and the ruling military council – because there's no one else they can blame.“Since the revolution erupted, we’ve seen little restructuring of the controlling command of the police forces, and also an extremely slow process of transfer of power to civilian rule," political analyst Hisham Saifeddin of Beirut's Al-Akhbar newspaper.Saifeddin told RT that police were "passive" in dealing with fans during the tragedy in Port Said, while in previous years such an event would have been impossible precisely due to a heavy police presence.“This is the surface. What’s more important is that there is no political system in place to actually deal with such things. We don’t know where the commands are coming from.”

The authorities blame violent football fans for Wednesday's deaths, while the Muslim Brotherhood says it was supporters of the ousted regime.Probably, the fact that police did not interfere in Port Said the clashes means they were afraid to get involved, Professor of Middle East History Lawrence Davidson told RT.“The key here is what the Muslim Brotherhood is going to do,” the professor said, meaning what steps the organization plans to take regarding the new violence, while holding the majority in Egypt's newly-elected parliament.Despite football fans' promises of a 'war' to defend the revolution, the chances this will become another full-scale uprising are poor, Davidson says. “They are brave and aggressive, but they aren’t so numerous,” while it is only the Muslim Brotherhood that can bring out a large number of people.“That is the issue: will they do it, or will they not?”

Walid Phares of the National Defense University in Washington told RT that Egypt’s ruling Military Council is hesitant to transfer power to a democracy dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.“Large segments of civil society, specifically the youth of Egypt who began the revolt, see the revolt as being taken away by other political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood,” Phares said, explaining that Egypt's younger citizens feel that country “is moving towards another authoritarian regime.”