REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Troops and protesters demanding the end of military rule pelted each other with rocks in the center of Cairo on Sunday in the third day of clashes that have killed at least 10 people and injured hundreds.
The violence has exposed sharp divisions among Egyptians about the military council that took over when President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown Feb. 11 in a popular uprising that helped inspire revolts against autocratic rulers across the Arab world.
Anger has been building among young activists over the generals’ failure to deliver promised reforms and their unwillingness to cede power to a civilian authority until the middle of next year. But many Egyptians are tired of the disruption caused by months of protests, and the number of demonstrators in the streets has remained relatively small.
The latest skirmishes came as results were expected from the second stage of voting this week for a new parliament, part of the military’s plan to transition to civilian rule.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement whose party won the largest share of votes in the first round, has criticized the military’s response to protesters but has not sent its supporters into the streets to join them. A third and final round of voting is scheduled in January.
Sunday’s unrest was largely confined to a road near Tahrir Square, epicenter of the protests that toppled Mubarak. The two sides faced off across a concrete barrier erected by security forces in Sheik Rehan Street to prevent protesters from reaching the parliament and cabinet buildings, where the clashes began early Friday after a demonstrator was arrested and beaten.
Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri has said that troops aren’t using live ammunition. But the Ministry of Health said six of the 10 people killed had died of gunshot wounds. By Sunday, the number of wounded stood at about 500, the ministry said.
Video footage and photographs of soldiers beating protesters to the ground with sticks Saturday sent shock waves through a nation more used to seeing such brutality from the police. An image of troops pulling up the shirt of a woman in a religious head scarf as another one raised a foot to stomp her midriff caused particular outrage on social media sites and in some independent newspapers.
"I wasn't taking part in this protest but I was enraged by the scenes and photos of people beaten and stripped of their clothes,” said Ahmed Ibrahim, a handyman who was limping Sunday on a bandaged left leg. “I decided to come and see what's going on and got beaten by an army officer. ... Is this the army that once claimed it was protecting us? Now they are even worse than the police under Mubarak."
But nearby shopkeepers accused the protesters of thuggish behavior and said the continued unrest was destroying their businesses.
“The country will collapse if we keep going like this,” said Khaled Hassan, who owns a clothing store near Tahrir Square. “We can't live and work anymore. Everyday there is a catastrophe and protesters don't want to stop.”
-- Amro Hassan
Alexandra Zavis contributed reporting from Beirut
Photo: Egyptian security forces face protesters in Cairo's Sheik Rehan Street on Sunday, the third consecutive day of violence. Credit: Mohamed Omar / EPA