Egyptian Protests Explode Into Violence

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CAIRO -- Islamist supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's newly ousted president, held enormous and defiant protests across Cairo and elsewhere on Friday demanding his reinstatement and engaging in sometimes deadly clashes with security forces and anti-Morsi demonstrators that threatened to further deepen the country's polarization.

Health Ministry data said at least 17 people were killed and hundreds wounded in political violence nationwide, most of them in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood, which organized the protests, said at 17 of its supporters were killed.

Witnesses said they saw at least five pro-Morsi demonstrators killed and many more wounded in gunfire outside the Republican Guard compound where Mr. Morsi was believed to be detained, as thousands confronted a phalanx of armed soldiers, armored vehicles and barbed wire ringing the facility.

"Where's Morsi?" they screamed. Others denounced Egypt's defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who had ordered Mr. Morsi removed from power Wednesday night. "Traitor, traitor, traitor! Sisi is a traitor!," they cried.

Police forces battled angry Islamist protesters in cities across the country, including Alexandria, Luxor and Mansoura. In Beni Suef, about 50 miles south of Cairo, protesters chased the military governor from his office building and hung a portrait of Mr. Morsi on the gates. Clashes also were reported early in the day between more militant Islamist factions and security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula, where a curfew was imposed.

With military helicopters circling well into the night, a new round of mass street violence convulsed downtown Cairo. Rival crowds of protesters hurled rocks, missiles, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at each other in Tahrir Square, the spiritual center of Egypt's 2011 revolution, and the 6th October Bridge, a heavily traveled elevated highway that spans the Nile River. "This has become a gang war, a street battle," said Hisham al-Sayyed Suleiman, 50, an anti-Morsi demonstrator.

Tens of thousands of people also faced off in the streets just north of Cairo's famous Egyptian museum and in front of the Ramses Hilton, a few hundreds north of Tahrir Square.

The immediate catalyst for the violent confrontation in central Cairo was over who had the right to Tahrir Square, the central theater of the 2011 revolution that led to the toppling of Mr. Morsi's autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, and has been the main spot for aggrieved Egyptians ever since. Thousands of Islamists who had been protesting elsewhere in the city marched across the 6th October Bridge intending to enter Tahrir Square, but crowds celebrating the military's removal of Mr. Morsi rushed to keep them out.

"I don't see this ending soon, because the Islamists keep saying they want Morsi or death," Mr. Suleiman said. "The only hope is for security to come and pick them all up."

The Cairo clashes abated, at least temporarily, after a half dozen armored vehicles full of black-clad police officers with shotguns and tear gas deployed on the bridge and headed toward the pro-Morsi crowd, firing their weapons, as the anti-Morsi side shouted "the police and the people are on hand!" Later some anti-Morsi demonstrators even posed for photos with the police officers as they still held their shotguns.

The pro-Morsi crowds, numbering in the tens of thousands, reflected the resilient power of the Muslim Brotherhood to organize mass rallies in the aftermath of the military intervention that deposed Mr. Morsi, the Islamist who was Egypt's first freely elected president. The Muslim Brotherhood called the protests the "Friday of Rejection" and insisted that Mr. Morsi must be reinstated as the rightful head of state.

"We will bring him back bearing him on our necks, sacrifice our souls for him," said Mohamed Badie, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who appeared at a mass pro-Morsi rally at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, stirring the crowd into impassioned anger. "We will bring back the rights of the Egyptian people who were wronged by this disgraceful conspiracy."

Mr. Badie said the widespread news media reports that he was among the Islamist leaders arrested in a post-Morsi crackdown by security forces were false. But in the aftermath of Mr. Morsi's ouster, hundreds of Islamists were detained, and even though a few senior Muslim Brotherhood aides were released on Friday, all indications pointed to a worsening divide between Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters and his critics -- including the powerful military that deposed him.

An interim president installed by the military, the former chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, took a further step on Friday to disempower the vestiges of Mr. Morsi's government by formally dissolving the Shura Council, the country's only operating house of Parliament, which had been dominated by the Islamists. The constitutional court had disbanded the lower house last year, one of many challenges Mr. Morsi had faced in his troubled tenure.

Islamists also expressed rage at how their ability to convey their message in the news media had been marginalized or eliminated in the two days since Mr. Morsi was deposed. Despite the interim government's pledge of inclusiveness, Islamist television broadcasters were shuttered, and state television barely covered the breadth of the pro-Morsi demonstrations on Friday.

Egypt's military commanders have justified the ouster of Mr. Morsi by saying they felt compelled to bring the country back together after millions of Egyptians demonstrated against him, claiming he had sought to monopolize power, neglected the economy and worsened divisions in society.

But if anything, the forced removal of Mr. Morsi seemed only to add a bitter new divisiveness into Egyptian politics.

The army's re-entry and the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood members in particular made many fear that they had not only lost their political power but could also face the same repression they endured under President Mubarak.

Protester Hussein Nada, 43, said he had spent eight years in prison under President Mubarak because he was a member of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, an Islamist group. He named the four different prisons he had spent time in while counting them on his fingers.

"They hung me up, they beat me, they used electricity -- all the means of torture they had," he said.

"Anyone from the opposition who came to power could decide to put us all back in prison," he said. "As soon as the army came back, they put hundreds on the arrests list, so we fear we could lose all we've gained."

The military's move against Mr. Morsi, which has drawn a mixed regional response, seems to have created a degree of isolation within the broader African continent. News reports said the African Union, the Pan-African representative body based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, resolved to suspend Egypt from all its activities in line with rules on the interruption of constitutional rule.

The prospect of more confrontation also raised concern at the United Nations. Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, said in a statement from Geneva that a "concerted effort is needed by all parties to establish sound political and legal institutions."

"There should be no more violence, no arbitrary detention, no illegal acts of retribution," she said. "Serious steps should also be taken to halt, and investigate, the appalling -- and at times seemingly organized -- sexual violence targeting women protesters."

In a sign that the anti-Morsi backlash may have overreached, a Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who had been dismissed by Mr. Morsi and was among those reinstated to his office on Thursday, resigned less than 24 hours later, apparently sensitive to the appearance of engaging in political retaliation.

In a statement reported by Ahram Online, Mr. Mahmoud said he had decided to resign to "avoid the embarrassment of making judicial decisions against those who removed me from office."

Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Mayy El Sheikh and Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from London.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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