CAIRO, February 13 (Shahira Amin for RIA Novosti) – On Monday, two years after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, thousands of people in Cairo and across Egypt went out onto the street in protest, calling for an end to Islamist President Morsi’s rule.
Scores of protesters set out from various meeting points in the capital, marching towards Tahrir Square and Al Ittihadeya Presidential Palace, where there have been violent clashes between opposition activists and security forces in recent weeks.
Monday's protests threaten to further destabilize the country, wracked by weeks of unrest sparked by the passing of a constitution rejected by liberal opposition political parties.
By nightfall, hundreds of protesters had gathered in the iconic Tahrir Square, where two years earlier, revelers celebrated Mubarak's ouster with music and fireworks until the early hours of the morning. Unlike the festive atmosphere of that time, the mood on Monday was subdued as protesters reiterated their demands for Morsi to step down. "The people want the downfall of the regime" they chanted, "Erhal!” (leave).
"The Muslim Brotherhood has hijacked the revolution," said Sobhy Mohamed, a 43 year-old teacher who had joined the march to Tahrir Square from the nearby Sayeda Zeinab Mosque. "It's clear that Morsi is trying to ikhwan-ize Egypt," he added, referring to the appointment of members of the Muslim Brotherhood (ikhwan is Arabic for “brothers”) movement from which Morsi hails to positions of power.
"Nothing has changed," lamented Randa Sobhy, a housewife protesting in the Square. Although she voted for Morsi in last year's presidential election, she has been deeply disappointed by the lack of progress since. "Many of the people protesting here today are unable to make ends meet. They just want to feed their families. Young people need jobs."
A beleaguered economy scarred by fuel and foreign exchange shortages is fueling this new wave of anti-government anger. The weakening Egyptian Pound has also raised concerns about further hikes in inflation and prices, dampening hopes of quick economic recovery.
Meanwhile, a $ 4.8 billion IMF rescue package was delayed after the government decided to delay badly needed austerity measures in case lifting subsidies on bread and fuel or increasing taxes triggers further unrest.
“Morsi is Mubarak," shouted the protesters in Tahrir Square. A group of demonstrators carried a huge banner bearing the six-pointed Star of David with an image of President Morsi in the middle, expressing what opposition activists perceive as Morsi's alignment with US and Israeli interests.
Others carried pictures of slain opposition activist Gaber “Jika” Salah, and demanded "qassas" or retribution for the martyrs. The young activist who was a member of the April 6 Movement, was killed in clashes between riot police and protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street last November, when protesters marked the anniversary of the previous year's deadly clashes outside parliament.
Meanwhile, a smaller rally of around 300 people outside Al Ittihadeya Palace turned violent after youths threw rocks into the palace grounds and security forces on the other side of the now-fortified Palace wall responded with water cannon and tear gas.
Live ammunition was also fired at protesters as armored vehicles closed in on them, forcing many to flee into side streets. Eyewitnesses reported seeing "infiltrators" (a term now used to refer to hired hugs) fire at security forces in a bid "to wreak havoc and provoke a violent reaction from security forces."
The turnout at Monday's protests was lower than at previous anti-Morsi rallies held on successive Fridays in recent weeks. The protesters however, remained resolute in their demands.
"We insist on the formation of a national unity government and amendments to the constitution," said Mohamed Fahmy, a 28 year-old protester outside the presidential palace.
Earlier, dozens of protesters had blocked the 6th of October Bridge, disrupting rush-hour traffic in the heart of the capital. Skirmishes also broke out between commuters and demonstrators after the latter halted subway trains at Sadat Station in downtown Cairo.
Meanwhile, dozens of Mubarak supporters gathered outside the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Cairo's upscale Mohandessin neighborhood (which saw pro-Mubarak rallies during the 18-day January 2011 uprising) carrying pictures of the fallen dictator.
Mubarak was sentenced to life imprisonment last June for failing to prevent the killing of around 800 protesters during the uprising two years ago. Bedridden at a military hospital, he now awaits a retrial expected to take place in April.
These Mubarak loyalists, calling themselves the "Sons of Mubarak" previously expressed their solidarity with the deposed President during his trial in June 2012, clashing with his opponents outside the courthouse. They rallied on Monday to pay tribute to the former leader on the second anniversary of his ouster.
"I would welcome Mubarak back with open arms anytime," said Sayyed Farrag, a Mubarak sympathizer who was with the group. "At least in his time I could find work and earn a decent livelihood. I've been unemployed for six months now."
Morsi's opponents demand that he face trial over the deaths of more than 50 opposition activists killed in the latest wave of protests that began on the Second Anniversary of the Revolution. The Public Prosecutor refuted the charge however, insisting there is no evidence linking Morsi with the deaths.
While Morsi may not face imprisonment, he does face growing opposition to his rule. The country is deeply polarized and it appears likely that the unrest witnessed in recent weeks will continue for some time yet, with even more bloodshed and a heavy toll on the economy.
Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist, the former deputy head of Egyptian state-owned Nile TV and one of its senior anchors.