CAIRO (AP) — Unknown assailants damaged early Tuesday the foundation in Cairo's famed Tahrir square for a future memorial dedicated to protesters killed in Egypt's revolutionary turmoil of the past 2 1/2 years.
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 ousted President Mohammed Morsi and also Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who removed him in July after days of mass protests demanding that the Islamist leader step down.
The attack underscored the deep scars left by the political turmoil in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011, with revolutionary groups feeling betrayed by successive governments whose main failures, in their view, was the inability to dismantle the Mubarak regime and ensure retribution for the hundreds of protesters killed at the hands of police and soldiers since 2011.
Some of those who participated in that revolt and the 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 Morrsi is seeking to impose its control over what they see as an intrinsically anti-authoritarian space.
The pre-dawn attack Tuesday came just hours after military-backed Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi inaugurated the foundation in a 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.
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 a street near Tahrir. The clashes in Mohammed Mahmoud street killed at least 45 people. Rallies are also expected later in the day amid fears of more unrest and violence.
The groups claim that since Morsi's ouster in the July 3 coup, the police returned to their brutal ways under Mubarak's 29-year rule and that widespread human rights abuses are being committed under the pretext of fighting a war against terrorism. They also accuse the military of seeking to restore its domination of the country at the expense of freedoms.
Since the coup, militants, some with al-Qaida links, have been battling security forces and the army in the strategic Sinai Peninsula in what has become a full-fledged insurgency. 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.