The anger against the military that has been simmering since Wednesday exploded on Friday, with protesters in Cairo marching on the Defence Ministry — an act that predictably provoked a harsh response from the security forces.
The military police made heavy use of water cannons to disperse the melee of protesters after some among the thousands that had assembled there surged ahead to breach the barbed wire fence separating them from the main building. Nile TV captured telling images of the police using clubs and batons to beat people, who responded with a barrage of stones. It also showed individuals throwing stones from the safety of the nearby Ain Shams University.
Reuters is reporting injuries to protesters, some of whom, with wounds to the face were seen being ferried on motorcycles from the scene of the violence.
Amid the intensifying clashes, it became apparent that a concerted attempt was underway to advance the frontline of the Egyptian uprising. With Tahrir Square possibly as the rear base, several groups of protesters wanted the rebellion to pulsate on the fringes of the Defence Ministry.
These protests, ahead of the upcoming May 23 presidential polls, seemed to sharpen the focus on the military as the chief impediment in Egypt's unfinished quest for democracy.
Unsurprisingly, some of the slogans chanted by the crowds as they headed towards the Ministry targeted the military. “Down with SCAF!” some shouted referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim ruling military council. “Where are the thugs? Here are the protestors!” some chanted, while others equated SCAF head Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to the unseated former President, Hosni Mubarak.
Protestors are calling for the dismissal of the SCAF-appointed Cabinet led by Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri. They also want Article 28 of the March 2011 constitutional declaration scrapped. They fear that this provision, which bars any appeal against the decisions of a committee overseeing the presidential elections, as an instrument that could be used to manipulate the poll.
Many ideological shades of the Egyptian rebellion were out in the open during Friday's protest. Leaders of the liberal April 6 youth Movement, the Kefaya movement and the revolutionary socialists, along with the ultra-conservative Salafists were participating in Friday's march.
However, not all had joined this protest. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood had called for staging the protests at Tahrir Square, where thousands had assembled by early-afternoon on Friday. At the rally at the Square, three stages had been set up for speakers from the Brotherhood, the Salafists and the “non-affiliated revolutionaries”.
In their defeated attempt to storm the military headquarters — the symbol of the state power — the protesters openly defied an earlier warning that the military had issued. At a press conference on Thursday, SCAF had been specific in warning protesters against converging outside military facilities. All protests they said had to be confined to Tahrir Square — the icon of Egypt's blazing uprising.
The press conference had been called after the military had been accused on Wednesday of non-intervention despite a savage assault by armed men on protesters who had for four days peacefully assembled outside the Defence Ministry.