Violent clashes between soldiers and demonstrators opposed to the military’s continuing power continued for a second day after the army attempted to clear protesters from Tahrir Square.
Health officials say at least eight people have been killed, including a cleric from the well-known Al Azhar mosque, and 300 were injured in fighting that flared up on Friday morning at a largely peaceful protest camp outside the cabinet building.
The clashes spread on Saturday from central Cairo into the upper-middle class district of Zamalek, across the Kasr el Nil Bridge.
Soldiers swarmed through Tahrir Square, setting to fire an encampment including tents next to the Arab League headquarters housing Syrian and Yemeni opposition activists. Protesters regrouped, gathered up rocks and fought back, engaging in running battles.
An explosion in a Napoleonic-era science ministry building near the protest site set off a fire that destroyed the site, which housed 40,000 maps and documents dating back hundreds of years.
At the heart of the crisis are deepening suspicions between the youthful protesters who led the revolution to overthrow longtime President Hosni Mubarak in January and a powerful military seeking to protect itself from waves of change engulfing the region.
An ongoing parliamentary election is intended to lead to a civilian government that can take the reins of power. But many doubt the army’s sincerity and question its ability to change under the leadership of elderly generals, including Field Marshall Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, who once were Mr Mubarak’s steadfast allies.
“Mubarak is still in control,” said Said Abdul Magdi, a 47-year-old baker leading chants in Tahrir Square. “The counter-revolutionaries are still in control. They don’t want to give us a minimum wage. They don’t want us to have decent lives. They don’t want our kids to get married and get their own homes.”
The funeral for the slain Al Azhar cleric, Sheikh Emad al-Mansary, was also charged with anger at the military. Thousands attended the ceremony at the famous Al Azhar mosque, chanting, “Down, down with the rule of the military” and “The people want the execution of the field marshal.”
As a cleric spoke about the sanctity of death, a woman shouted out, “What about the sanctity of blood?” After the service several thousand marched alongside the coffin along the street adjacent to the mosque.
The ferocity of the army’s attacks on protesters on Friday and Saturday likely heightened mistrust of the military. At one point military police could be seen whipping and clubbing a group of protesters who were chanting, “Peaceful! Peaceful!” while trying to mediate an agreement between soldiers and hot-headed demonstrators. Some accused the army of beating passersby emerging from the subway station.
But some of the protesters gave as good as they got, gathering up rocks to throw at the soldiers. “I’ve been here from the morning,” said Ahmad Barakat, a 22-year-old student. “I have seen what the army has done. The people were just trying to get their riots.”
It was unclear why the army chose to move against the protesters as violently as it did. It may be under competing and conflicting pressures.