CAIRO — Hamdi Abdaghany sat outside his tire shop, breathed deeply to clear his lungs of tear gas, and let the thick wooden bat he’d been carrying all day finally drop to the ground.
His small shop off Tahrir Street in Dokki, a Cairo neighborhood, was on the frontline of clashes between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood supporters Sunday. Like many of his neighbors in this upper middle class community, he grabbed a weapon and took to the street when he heard a Muslim Brotherhood march was coming through.
“I came to defend my neighborhood… If those pigs come back tomorrow we will slaughter them,” he said, gesturing toward where a small pocket of Muslim Brotherhood supporters continued to exchange fire with Egyptian soldiers. “You feel this need to defend yourself against them, now that we know what the Muslim Brotherhood really is.”
Similar scenes played out across Cairo Sunday, with Egypt’s health ministry reporting that 34 people were killed in violent clashes. The two main sites of the violence, Dokki and Ramses, saw several thousand Brotherhood supporters clash with local residents backed by the army.
“We will help the army fight them off,” said Abdaghany, who cheered as a military helicopter flew overhead and pumped his fists at Egyptian armored personnel carriers in the streets. “The Brotherhood only wants to make problems, you have to wipe them out before they start.”
But despite his tough words, Abadghany was one of the only locals to step in and intervene when a Brotherhood supporter was caught by the crowd and nearly beaten to death. A crowd of nearly a dozen police and military officers formed a circle around the man, who looked to be in his thirties, and dragged him away from the crowd before they put him under arrest.
“I thought he was beaten enough. They would have killed him. I felt mercy I guess,” Abadghany said, though he was immediately chastised by his friend’s mother who yelled, “They don’t deserve mercy. What kind of mercy would the Brotherhood show us?”
Violent clashes between Brotherhood supporters and the army marred what was otherwise a day of celebration across Egypt. Oct. 6 is a national holiday marking the first day of Egypt’s participation in the 1973 Middle East war, but it’s usually met with a halfhearted parade and a scattering of die-hard military enthusiasts. This year, the Egyptian government took advantage of the celebrations to call for Egyptians to take to the streets in a show of nationalism. Hundreds of thousands responded, flooding Tahrir Square and celebrating late into the night.
“For the first time in 40 years we have something to be proud of, we feel our country has been given back to us,” said Tahani Kamel, a hotel manager who walked toward Tahrir Square with her arms full of posters celebrating the man many Egyptians consider their now most powerful leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi.
“It is clear that he, Sisi, gave us this victory and he gave us our pride back as a country,” she said, gesturing toward a magazine article highlighting his career achievements. “I think most people here will tell you that no matter what, we want Sisi to continue to lead our country.”
The most popular poster hoisted in the streets Sunday showed a stern-faced Sisi flanked on either side by former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“We love this poster. It shows what we want — we want Sisi to be our next president. Long live Sisi, future president of Egypt,” said Salaa Ibrihim, a shopkeeper near Tahrir Square.
If the day was meant to show the world that Egypt’s interim government — in power for three months — had the backing of the people, it succeeded. Fighter jets streaked overhead, cars blasted patriotic songs, and young children stood in lines to have their faces painted with the colors of the Egyptian flag.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was overthrown from power and now faces the arrest of most of its most prominent members, was eager to show that not all Egyptians were happy with the new status quo. The marches organized by the Brotherhood were meant to flex the muscles of the group, and show supporters that they might be down, but not out.
Several thousand Brotherhood supporters gathered near several Cairo mosques mid-day and began marches across the city. Their goal, they said, was to reach Tahrir Square. But clashes began just a few hundred yards from where they departed.
“They did not get far, we did not want them in our neighborhood,” said Khaled Shobki, a resident of Dokki who said he saw the march as it started. “We see the Muslim Brotherhood as nothing but trouble. We don’t trust them anymore.”
And few seemed to let attacks on the Brotherhood mar their celebrations.