Cairo’s Tahrir Square saw fierce clashes between army soldiers and protesters late on Wednesday after demonstrators made their way to the square’s central garden area, where soldiers and civilians hurled stones at each other.
The clashes started when demonstrators moved onto the square’s central lawn, which had been occupied by Central Security forces for several weeks. The protesters chanted slogans slamming the performance of the country’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). They also called upon the security forces to leave the square, chanting “Go to Sinai instead” and “They killed our brothers at the borders.”
The protesters were referring to the killing of five Egyptian policemen in Sinai on 18 August, as Israeli forces crossed the Egyptian-Israeli border in pursuit of militants who had earlier attacked and killed eight Israelis in Eilat.
The Central Security forces stationed in Tahrir Square failed to curb the influx of demonstrators, prompting the army to intervene and demand that the protesters leave. Some protesters tried to prevent clashes, while an army officer ordered the troops to turn their backs on protesters so as to avoid a violent incident.
However, when protesters rejected an order by another army officer to leave the square, asserting instead their right to protest peacefully, the officer instructed the troops to disperse the protest by force, sparking the violence.
For around an hour, there were intermittent fights between the armed forces and protesters, with both hurling stones. Police forces, however, were not involved in the clashes.
Later, hundreds of passers-by attempted to separate the two parties and halt the violence, which had blocked the flow of traffic. No injuries resulted from the clashes.
As the army regained control of the square, protesters vowed to return on 9 September to protest the military prosecution of civilians.
Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the epicenter of mass demonstrations on January that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. It has also been the stage of several later protests.
The clashes are the most recent episode in the ongoing struggle for control of the square, which has been under army and police control since they dispersed a weeks-long sit-in on 1 August.
Last month saw several attempts by protesters to retake the square, which they believe has a symbolic importance for the revolution.