Millions of anti-Morsi protesters swarm Cairo’s streets
One demonstrator killed, 30 others injured in city south of capital; 60,000 or more have fled Egypt in past 48 hours
CAIRO — Millions of opponents of Egypt’s Islamist president massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in cities around the country Sunday, launching an all-out push to force President Mohammed Morsi from office on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Fears of violence were high, with Morsi’s Islamist supporters vowing to defend him.
One anti-Morsi protester was reportedly shot and killed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the city of Beni Suef, approximately 70 miles south of Cairo. At least 30 others were reported injured in the Beni Suef clashes, Beni Suef security chief Ibrahim Hodeib was quoted in Egyptian daily Al Ahram saying.
Cairo International Airport was reportedly crowded with passengers trying to leave the country ahead of the expected violence. According to Tawfik al-Assy, the chairman of EgyptAir Holding Company, some 60,000 passengers have left the country in the last 48 hours, he told Sky News Arabia.
In Egypt’s provinces of Dakhalia and al-Sharqia, two Muslim Brotherhood offices were torched respectively by protesters on Sunday afternoon, according to al-Arabiya. Another Muslim Brotherhood office in Cairo was attacked Sunday evening by anti-Morsi protesters with Molotov cocktails.
In Cairo, crowds packed Tahrir, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, waving Egyptian flags and chanting “Erhal!” (“Leave!”).
On the other side of the city, thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of support for Morsi outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque near the Ittihadiya presidential palace, which the opposition planned to march on in the evening.
Near Ittihadiya palace, thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of support for Morsi outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque. Their crowd also swelled as sun went down and summer temperatures became more tolerable, but they were vastly outnumbered by anti-Morsi protesters thronging main roads and thoroughfares.
In Nasr City, a district of the capital, hundreds of Morsi supporters brandishing shields and clubs and donning boxing headgear, hard hats, or motorcycle helmets could be seen preparing to face off with the president’s opponents. Some were wearing what appeared to be makeshift body armor.
There is a sense among opponents and supporters of Morsi that Sunday is a make-or-break day, hiking worries that the two camps will come to blows, even as each side insists it won’t start violence. Already at least seven people, including an American, have been killed in clashes the past week, mainly in Nile Delta cities and the coastal city of Alexandria.
The demonstrations are the culmination of polarization and instability that have been building since Morsi’s June 30, 2012, inauguration as Egypt’s first freely elected leader. The past year has seen multiple political crises, bouts of bloody clashes and a steadily worsening economy, with power outages, fuel shortages, rising prices and persistent lawlessness and crime.
In one camp are the president and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups. They say street demonstrations cannot be allowed to remove a leader who won a legitimate election, and they accuse Mubarak loyalists of being behind the campaign in a bid to return to power. They have argued that for the past year remnants of the old regime have been sabotaging Morsi’s attempts to deal with the nation’s woes and bring reforms.
Hard-liners among them have also given the confrontation a sharply religious tone, denouncing Morsi’s opponents as “enemies of God” and infidels.
On the other side is an array of secular and liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims, Christians — and what the opposition says is a broad sector of the general public that has turned against the Islamists. They say the Islamists have negated their election mandate by trying to monopolize power, infusing government with their supporters, forcing through a constitution they largely wrote and giving religious extremists a free hand, all the while failing to manage the country.
The opposition believes that with sheer numbers in the street, it can pressure Morsi to step down — perhaps with the added weight of the powerful military if it signals the president should go.
“Today is the Brotherhood’s last day in power,” predicted Suliman Mohammed, a manager of a seafood company who was protesting at Tahrir, where crowds neared 100,000 by early afternoon.
“I came here today because Morsi did not accomplish any of the (2011) revolution’s goals. I don’t need anything for myself, but the needs of the poor were not met.”
Another Tahrir protester, 21-year-old Mohammed Abdel-Salam, said he came out because he wanted early presidential elections. “If he is so sure of his popularity why doesn’t he want to organize early elections? If he wins it, we will tell the opposition to shut up.”
Underlining the potential for deadly violence, a flurry of police reports on Sunday spoke of the seizure of firearms, explosives and even artillery shells in various locations of the country, including Alexandria and the outskirts of Cairo. Sunday afternoon, two offices belonging to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party were attacked and ransacked Sunday by protesters in the city of Bani Suef, south of Cairo.
In an interview published Sunday in The Guardian, Morsi — who has three years left in his term — said he had no plans to meet the protesters’ demand for an early presidential election.
“If we changed someone in office who (was elected) according to constitutional legitimacy — well, there will (be) people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down,” Morsi told the British daily.
“There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy,” he said.
Traffic in Cairo’s normally clogged streets was light at midday as many residents chose to stay home for fear of violence or a wave of crime similar to the one that swept Egypt during the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising. Banks were closing early and most government departments were either closed for the day or were thinly staffed. Most schools and colleges are already closed for the summer holidays.
The opposition protests emerge from a petition campaign by a youth activist group known as Tamarod, Arabic for “Rebel.” For several months, the group has been collecting signatures on a call for Morsi to step down.
On Saturday the group announced it had more than 22 million signatures — proof, it claims, that a broad sector of the public no longer wants Morsi in office.
It was not possible to verify the claim. If true, it would be nearly twice the around 13 million people who voted for Morsi in last year’s presidential run-off election, which he won with around 52 percent of the vote. Tamarod organizers said they discarded about 100,000 signed forms because they were duplicates.
Morsi’s supporters have questioned the authenticity and validity of the signatures, but have produced no evidence of fraud.
Adding to his troubles, eight lawmakers from the country’s interim legislature announced their resignation Saturday to protest Morsi’s policies. The 270-seat chamber was elected early last year by less than 10 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters, and is dominated by Islamists.
A legal adviser to Morsi also announced his resignation late Saturday in protest at what he said was Morsi’s insult of judges in his latest speech on Wednesday.
A week ago, with the public sense of worry growing over the upcoming confrontation, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi last week gave the president and his opponents a week to reach a compromise. He warned that the military would intervene to prevent the nation from entering a “dark tunnel.”
Army troops backed by armored vehicles were deployed Sunday in some of Cairo’s suburbs, with soldiers, some in combat gear, stood at traffic lights and major intersections. Army helicopters flew over Cairo on several occasions on Sunday, adding to the day’s sense of foreboding.
Morsi had called for national reconciliation talks in a Wednesday speech, but offered no specifics. Opposition leaders dismissed the call as cosmetics.
Asked by The Guardian whether he was confident that the army would not intervene if the country becomes ungovernable, Morsi replied, “Very.”
The Egyptian leader, however, said he did not know in advance of Sissi’s comments last week.