Friday, June 28, 2013

Violence Flares in Egypt As Rival Protests Approach June 30 Showdown

Violence flares in Egypt as rival protests approach 30 June showdown

Bel Trew, Saturday 29 Jun 2013
Ahram Online

Morsi supporters turn out in force Friday, while counter-rallies erupt in Cairo in day that sees two people fall victim to political violence

Fierce clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi continue to rage into the night in Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria, following a day of rival protests nationwide that left one Egyptian and one US citizen dead.

An American man – a photographer who had gone to the Alexandria protests to film the event – was stabbed to death, while an Egyptian man succumbed to injuries sustained from birdshot.

Several Muslim Brotherhood offices were ransacked and some torched across the country, including the group's offices in Alexandria and the Nile Delta governorates of Beheira, Gharbiya, Daqahilyah and Kafr Al-Sheikh.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, released a statement holding members of the anti-Morsi Tamarod ('Rebel') campaign responsible for the violence, slamming them as "thugs."

As the fighting continued, armed forces spokesman Ahmed Ali told state news agency MENA that the army had deployed troops nationwide to protect Egyptian citizens and property.

"Such measures are being taken to avoid the 28 January 2011 scenario," Ali said.

Islamists mobilise

Meanwhile, in Cairo's Nasr City, thousands of the president's mostly Islamist supporters are settling in for the night after staging a rally in support of Morsi's "democratic legitimacy."

As the evening drew to a close, leading Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed El-Beltagi took the stage, calling on Morsi's opponents to "join us in the revolution, like you did before, and wash your hands of cooperation with remnants of the old regime," echoing the sentiments of many at the rally.

The open-ended demonstration, called for by Egypt's Islamic Alliance – a pro-Morsi coalition spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party – is being held with the motto: "Democratic legitimacy is a red line."

Senior FJP member Diaa Adha told Ahram Online from the rally's busy encampment that protesters' chief aims were "to pre-empt Sunday's planned opposition protests [marking the end of Morsi's first year in office] and to support the president, who took office according to a democratic election – the first such election in Egypt's history."

Since Morsi's inauguration as head of state, Adha said, elements associated with the former regime had worked tirelessly to sabotage the president's efforts to move Egypt forward.

"They have exerted enormous efforts to hinder the stability and success of Egypt's new government because they know that it will combat state corruption and protect Egypt's finances," he said.

He went on to slam the 'Rebel' campaign as illegal, describing it as a "vehicle" for the return of the Mubarak regime.

His sentiments were echoed by Assem Abdel-Maged, a prominent Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya figure and staunch Morsi supporter, who called those demanding the president's ouster "conspirators who the president must deal harshly with." His comments were met with rapturous applause.

The day's festive atmosphere, which saw families wearing hats bearing Morsi's image and groups of people singing in unison, was only briefly interrupted when scuffles broke out when protesters attacked an Egyptian television crew, accusing it of being from opposition media.

Not everyone at the pro-Morsi rally, meanwhile, was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"I'm not here for Morsi; even if [failed leftist presidential candidate] Hamdeen Sabbahi was president, I'd come to this rally. I'm here to defend democracy. Collapsing the democratic base will lead this country to civil war," a retired Egyptian Air Force colonel told Ahram Online emphatically.

"As soon as Morsi took power, the opposition began calling him a failure… We're leading the country to hell," he said.

Opposition occupies Tahrir Square

Only a few kilometres away in Cairo's Tahrir Square, counter-protests were seen, with thousands marching to the iconic rallying point to demand Morsi's ouster.

Divisions grew as the day went on, especially over the role of the military: some called for military intervention if violence escalates, while others cited rights abuses by the military during its one year in power following the fall of Mubarak.

Some well-known activists left the square when they saw demonstrators waving posters of the ousted president.

Nevertheless, the sentiment was strong: President Morsi must step down.

The 'Rebel' signature drive, meanwhile, was out in full force at the square.

Amid accusations by the Brotherhood that the campaign was responsible for the day's violent clashes, the campaign released a statement via Twitter stressing that the shedding of any Egyptian blood was "wrong," regardless of religious or political affiliations.

Simultaneously, thousands of anti-Morsi protesters also gathered in Egypt's Port Said, Damietta, Beheira and Daqahliyah governorates to demand snap presidential elections.

'Go to the ballot box'

Back at the Islamist sit-in in Cairo's Nasr City, activists for the pro-Morsi Tagarod ('Impartiality') counter-campaign handed out their own petitions. They mocked their 'Rebel' campaign counterparts, who they accused of signing the anti-Morsi petition "dozens of times each."

Islamist protesters also slammed prominent opposition figures and symbols.

"These so-called commentators and television personalities are trying to bring Egypt down; they're clearly working for the US," asserted Emad Abel-Mahmoud, 32, from the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut.

"Take [well-known TV comedian] Bassem Youssef, for example: he's touting a Zionist-American agenda, making television programmes for the US… there's a big difference between exercising one's freedom of speech and being downright disrespectful."

Discussions also revolved around Egypt's worsening fuel and water shortages.

"It's normal that we should see these problems," unemployed Morsi supporter Khalifa Ibrahim, 42, told Ahram Online as he set up camp. "Rebuilding a country after 60 years of dictatorship and corruption takes time."

Friday's rival demonstrations highlighted Egypt's deep divisions, as the country steels itself for further unrest on the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration on Sunday.

"Look, I voted for Morsi. I'm here to defend my vote. If you want to change him, participate in elections," said Hamza Abu-Seer, 57, while selling Morsi-themed hats.

"He got the army out of power and saw a new constitution drafted and passed," Abu-Seer added. "Anyone who doesn't like it can go to the ballot box."

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