A patchwork of angry protests against Egypt's military rulers that began on Thursday following the killing of at least 74 football fans in Port Said, overnight funnelled into a giant wave of dissent that descended on the Interior Ministry, the icon of state power in Cairo.
Clashes with the security forces at Port Said and outside the Interior Ministry had killed four people and injured over a thousand. Most were victims of frenzied firing of teargas rounds, bird shot and rubber bullets. Ranya El-Sobhy, an ophthalmologist who treated patients all night, said rubber bullets had ruptured the eye balls of 14 patients who were brought to the Qasr-al-Ain hospital where she worked, Al Ahram reported on its website. Dr. Ranya, who participated in Friday's protests at Tahrir Square, —the famous symbol of the Egyptian uprising that brought down the former strongman, Hosni Mubarak — is part of the Eye Doctors of the Revolution group, a professional body clamouring for Egypt's political rebirth.
Apart from fighting pitched battles on Mansour Street, which leads towards the Interior Ministry, the protesters sloganeered for the exit of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — the interim contraption meant to steer Egypt's transition to democracy.
Most protesters are convinced that the military and the security forces abetted, if not plotted, Wednesday's bloodbath at a football stadium at Port Said — a perception that is hard to confirm. If it was not connivance, they ask, how was it that the so-called fans of a local football club who unleashed the carnage were allowed to enter the stadium armed to the teeth? Many believe the ‘ultras' — die-hard fans of Egypt's' football clubs, in this case the Al Ahly football club — were targeted because they imparted a cutting edge to some of the key anti-government protests that have fundamentally changed Egypt.
Countering the perception that the killings in Port Said were born out of vendetta against the Al Ahly ‘ultras', authorities have gone out of the way to show that the tragedy in Port Said was the result of incompetence, or worse, at the local level. The resignation of the Governor of Port Said has been accepted and top security officials of the city dismissed.
Going beyond bitter sporting rivalries and focusing purely on the perceived misdeeds of the state, fans of rival sporting clubs joined hands overnight to seek answers from the military.
On Friday, nearly a thousand people converged at a corner of the Tahrir Square, some waving flags of rival football clubs along with the Egyptian national flag. By late afternoon on Friday, Tahrir Square assumed the appearance of a rear base of a still developing protest at the nearby Mansour Street and Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
Protesters had overnight torn down the protective wall that the security forces had raised to prevent crowds surging from Tahrir into Mohamed Mahmoud Street, a radial that leads in the direction of the American University of Cairo campus and the Interior Ministry.
In the struggle to democratise Egypt after the fall of Mr. Mubarak, Mohamed Mahmoud Street has acquired iconic status. In November, 43 protesters who failed to storm the Interior Ministry fell in this alley to ceaseless attacks by the security forces.
Throughout Friday, protesters of various ideological hues headed towards Tahrir Square. Thousands assembled at the nearby Mostafa Mahmoud Square chanted anti-military slogans, just before commencing their march towards the Square.