Mass rival rallies in Egypt as Morsi officially detained
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Hundreds of thousands of people gathered for rival protests in cities across Egypt on Friday as ousted president Mohammed Morsi was officially detained by the military and at least nine people were killed in clashes.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered from rival camps in Egypt on Friday to compete for control over Egypt’s future, with Islamists proclaiming justice as their only weapon and their opponents demanding the army fight terrorism.
As tensions rose between conflicting rallies across the country, at least nine people were killed and dozens injured in clashes between pro and anti-Mohammed Morsi supporters mostly in the city of Alexandria.
The Muslim Brotherhood said at least 70 people were killed early on Saturday when Egyptian security forces opened fire on supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi.
“They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said.
The violence erupted on the fringes of a round-the-clock vigil being staged by backers of Morsi, who was ousted from power earlier this month by Egypt’s military following mass protests against his first year in office.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Supporters of the Islamist leader were angered by news that the deposed president was being investigated for charges including murder.
Meanwhile, backers of the secular leadership that ousted Morsi heeded to the call of army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, taking to the streets en masse to show their support for the the interim government. Tens of thousands swarmed across Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, where FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley described the atmosphere as “celebratory”.
“It feels here as though the tension has broken,” she reported on Friday. “There’s a nationalistic fervour, many people are carrying photos of the man they consider to be the saviour of Egypt – General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.”
Sisi set the scene for a potential showdown earlier in the week with his appeal to the public to give him “a mandate to fight terror and violence”.
Sisi’s call – the first of its kind – has left the country more divided than at any time since former president Hosni Mubarak was removed from power in 2011.
Rhetoric between the two camps became increasingly confrontational in the build-up to the rallies on Friday. The army threatened to “turn its guns” on those who use violence, while Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood warned of civil war.
Backers of the Muslim Brotherhood movement describe the July 3 overthrow of Morsi as a coup d’état and have pledged to remain in the streets until he is reinstated. The country’s first democratically-elected leader, Morsi has not been seen since his removal from power.
At the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp, the Brotherhood’s main sit-in on the other side of the capital, many remained defiant, even though they see Sisi’s call as a sign that a major military crackdown was imminent.
“They call us terrorists, but justice is on our side. This is our only weapon,” Morsi supporter Sherif Zeidan told Reuters, holding up a Quran.
“Sisi will fall, the voices of the millions will drive him out,” said Mohammed Jamal, 26, as he sold headbands in green, the colour of Islam, that declared “Get out, Sisi!”
US steers clear of coup verdict
The deep hostility raises the possibility of long-term uncertainty in a strategic US ally at the heart of the Middle East. Western nations have been viewing the developing situation in Egypt with increasing unease, amid fears the army may be attempting to seize power and derail the country’s path to democracy.
Washington on Friday decided to avoid the tricky question of whether the toppling Morsi was a coup or not, in what could be seen as a controversial decision.
"The law does not require us to make a formal determination... as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.
A verdict ruling that a coup did take place would have forced the US to freeze $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt.
But in a warning sign to the military earlier in the week, Washington said it had delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo and called on the Egyptian army to exercise “maximum restraint and caution” during Friday’s rallies.
Morsi under investigation
Meanwhile, a ruling by a top Egyptian court Friday threatened to further rile Morsi supporters after it ordered the questioning of the ousted president over an investigation on charges including murder and conspiracy with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Morsi will be quizzed on whether he collaborated with Hamas in attacks on police stations and prison breaks in early 2011, in which he and other political inmates escaped during the revolt against strongman Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s news agency MENA said.
Muslim Brotherhood officials have said they were aided by local residents in breaking out of prison, not foreigners. But numerous reports in the Egyptian media have claimed the organisation collaborated with both Hamas, its Palestinian wing, and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon to arrange the breakout.
Drawing on state media, the army propaganda machine has been working overtime to deepen the Muslim Brotherhood’s isolation. Privately-owned television stations and newspapers, also deeply hostile to the Brotherhood, have been doing their part too.
One documentary screened on state TV on Friday showed celebrations that erupted on July 3 – the night Sisi announced that Morsi had been deposed. The narrator declared it “the day of liberation from Brotherhood occupation”.
Scenes of military manoeuvres, including with Sisi jogging at the head of a group of soldiers, were screened throughout the day. “Egypt against terrorism,” declared an on-screen caption.
With its TV station closed down and many of its leaders arrested, the Brotherhood has lost much of its media power. But the group has been able to make its voice heard, using social media and the stage at its sit-in in northeast Cairo.
Mohamed Badie, the movement’s leader, issued a statement on Thursday saying Sisi had committed a crime greater than knocking down the Kabaa, a building in Mecca which is the holiest site in Islam. The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful protest, even if it means death.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)