CAIRO: Security forces sprayed protesters with water hoses and tear gas outside the presidential palace Monday as Egyptians marked the second anniversary of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s ouster with angry demonstrations against his elected successor.
The forces were trying to disperse a small crowd of protesters after some of them tried to cross a barbed wire barrier meant to keep them back from the palace gate.
Some protesters broke out in chants: “The people want to bring down the regime,” while others responded by throwing stones.
Graffiti scribbled on the palace walls read: “Erhal” or “Leave,” the chant that echoed through Tahrir Square during the 18-day uprising two years ago which ended with Mubarak stepping down on Feb. 11, 2011.
The protests came as AlAzhar elected a new mufti, the country’s top Islamic jurist, in an unprecedented vote signaling the Islamic institute’s growing independence from the government.
Shawqi Ibrahim Abdel Karim, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence, was elected by a newly formed council of senior clerics, which submitted its nomination for President Mohammad Mursi to ratify.
“This is the first time Azhar clerics choose an Azhar scholar in balloting,” said Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of the influential Sunni institute.
Previous muftis were selected by the president, openly politicizing the top post, critics argued.
After Mubarak’s ouster, Al-Azhar lobbied to change its status under law to allow its clerics to appoint the mufti and the next sheikh of Azhar, the top cleric in the country, Azab said.
The new mufti, Abdel Karim, is not known to hold any political affiliations.
Earlier in the day, masked men briefly blocked trains at a central Cairo subway station and a dozen other protesters blocked traffic on a main flyover in Cairo. Hundreds rallied outside the office of the country’s chief prosecutor demanding justice and retribution for protesters killed in clashes with security forces after Mursi took office last summer.
Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since Mubarak’s ouster in the uprising sparked largely by widespread abuse at the hands of state security agencies.
Mursi won the first free and democratic elections in June by a small margin. But he is now facing the wrath of Egyptians who say few of their goals when they toppled the old regime have been realized.
Government opponents marched to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising which has been sealed off by protesters since November. Others went to the presidential palace. Hundreds marched through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city.
“Of course I feel disappointed. Every day it’s getting worse,” said Ahmad Mohammad, a 20-year-old engineering student protesting outside the presidential palace. “The economy is even worse and all government institutions are collapsing. Mursi won’t even acknowledge this.”
Doaa Mustafa, a 33-year-old housewife, said she is willing to stay on the streets until Mursi steps down as Mubarak did.
“We’re here so that Mohammad Mursi, the dictator, will leave. He is just as bad as Mubarak, if not worse.”
An increasingly violent wave of protests has spread outside of the capital in recent weeks as political initiatives failed to assuage the anger.
The recent explosion of violence began on the second anniversary of the start of the uprising on Jan. 25.
But the crowds were far smaller at Monday’s protests and the violence more muted.
Before the major anniversary protests began, masked men stopped trains in a main Cairo subway station in Tahrir Square briefly to pressure Mursi to respond to their demands.
They stood on the tracks and witnesses said they scuffled with some passengers angered by the obstruction of traffic, pelting each other with rocks.
A security official said the metro police tried to stop the fighting. Birdshot was fired in the subway station, injuring some. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media and said he didn’t know who was behind the shooting.
Scores of activists from April 6, one of the key groups behind the uprising, rallied outside the office of the chief prosecutor, whose appointment by Mursi was criticized as a violation of the judiciary’s independence.
They demanded retribution for the hundreds of protesters killed at the hands of security forces particularly since Mursi’s election. The protesters lobbed plastic bags filled with red liquid at the office, symbolizing the spilled blood of civilians.
They chanted: “Hey, appointed prosecutor, who will bring justice to those martyrs?”
Protesters also locked shut the doors of the main administrative building for state services just outside the subway station at Tahrir Square, while others blocked traffic at a main bridge on the other side of town that leads to the presidential palace by standing in the road and burning tires.