Amr Nabil, Associated Press
CAIRO — Protesters early Tuesday vandalized the pedestal of a memorial dedicated to demonstrators killed in Egypt's revolutionary turmoil only hours after the prime minister inaugurated it in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
The attack reflected activists' anger against what they see as an attempt by Egypt's current military-backed rulers to paper over the bloodshed and rewrite history.
The attackers, mostly men in their early 20s, used rocks to chip away at the large foundation stone and sprayed it with red graffiti denouncing both ousted President Mohammed Morsi as well as his nemesis Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who removed him in July after days of mass protests demanding that the Islamist leader step down.
The protesters also chanted against the police, holding the current and previous governments responsible for the death of hundreds of protesters and for failing to bring top officials to justice.
"Down with all those who betrayed: the military, the former regime (of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak) and the Muslim Brotherhood," read the graffiti sprayed on the damaged structure. Some wore T-shirts with a three-finger logo, representing the three groups they believed had mismanaged the country.
The attack underscored the deep scars left by the turmoil that followed Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011, and reflects a bitter contest for control of the memory of that uprising.
Revolutionary groups feel betrayed by successive governments who failed, in their view, to dismantle Mubarak-era institutions and win justice for their victims.
Some of those who participated both in that revolt and in mass anti-Morsi protests in June feel the memorial does not honor the dead as much as it tries to paper over the continuing deep disputes over Egypt's future.
They say the military-backed interim government, which was brought to power after the July coup that ousted Morsi is seeking to impose its control over Tahrir, an intrinsically anti-authoritarian space.
Both the Islamists and the military's supporters however feel they have won popular mandates from far larger sections of the Egyptian public than the revolutionaries ever did.
The Islamists point to the Muslim Brotherhood's victories in every election since 2011.
El-Sissi and the military, meanwhile, were idolized by many for overthrowing Morsi in response to a millions-strong street demonstration, the largest Egypt had yet seen. Weeks later, more millions went out giving the general a mandate to confront Islamist "terrorism."
The pre-dawn attack on the monument foundation came just hours after military-backed Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi presided over an inauguration ceremony held amid tight security. All entrances to the square were sealed off by security forces and armored personnel carriers, which caused hours of traffic congestion in Cairo.
At night, scores of protesters chipped at the plaque carrying the name of the prime minister and the interim president, posted revolutionary stickers and wrote in red paint calling for retribution. They then broke the limestone foundation with rocks and metal bars.
Egypt's revolutionary groups were to mark later Tuesday the second anniversary of some of the fiercest confrontations between Egyptian protesters and security forces on Mohammed Mahmoud street, off Tahrir square. Clashes there in 2011 and 2012 killed at least 45 people.
The groups claim that since Morsi's ouster in the July 3 coup, the police have returned to their brutal ways and widespread human rights abuses are being committed under the pretext of fighting a war against terrorism.
Highlighting the alienation many of the protesters feel, a large poster marked the boundary between Tahrir and Mohammed Mahmoud: "Here is the border between Egypt's Revolution and Occupied Tahrir."
At one point late Monday, there were rival chants between supporters of the military and those against the current military-backed regime and the ousted Brotherhood-led government.
Some protesters later chased a pro-army crowd out of the square area.
Adding to the volatility of the situation, Morsi supporters and partisans of the military also plan to hold rallies in Cairo, amid warnings from security officials that some would try to cause agitation. Tuesday is also the birthday of el-Sissi and some planned to celebrate it in the streets.
Since the coup, militants including some with al-Qaida links have been battling security forces and the army in the strategic Sinai Peninsula. Elsewhere, there have been bombings and large-scale attacks, including an assassination attempt against the interior minister, who is in charge of the police.
In one of the latest attacks, a senior security officer in charge of monitoring Islamist groups, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, was gunned down on Sunday in Cairo's Nasr City district, a Brotherhood stronghold and home to several military barracks.
"We don't want to be ruled by soldiers and we don't want to be ruled by a Brotherhood that peddles religion," the men chanted around the damaged foundation in Tahrir. "I want to say a word in your ear el-Sissi, don't even dream of becoming my president," they chanted.
El-Sissi has not ruled out a run in next year's presidential election.
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