Egyptians hailing and protesting the army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi held rival mass demonstrations in Cairo and across the country on Sunday amid faltering efforts to forge a new government and worries about serious violence after last week’s bloodshed.
Hundreds of thousands streamed into the capital’s Tahrir Square in the early evening to support “the independence of the nation” and express backing for the forced end of the Islamist leader’s year-long tenure. Tensions were also high in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city.
Efforts to form a technocratic government to rule until fresh elections appeared to be in trouble with resistance from the Salafi Nour party to the appointment of opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as prime minister under the interim president.
Elbaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had been due to be sworn in as interim prime minister on Saturday night, but the presidential office later appeared to row back, saying consultations were continuing. On Sunday, Elbaradei was reported to have cancelled an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press citing laryngitis and a fever.
Activists said they were protesting to ensure ElBaradei was chosen. “Mohamed ElBaradei is our choice for prime minister – why should we change our plans just because one group, the Nour party, says they don’t want him?” said Mohamed Khamis, a leading organiser for Tamarod, the grassroots movement that spearheaded the anti-Morsi protests on 30 June.
“This is unbelievable, especially after so many people went on the streets this week. The citizens are asking for ElBaradei. Why should we change plans just for a small group?”
Members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood demanded he be reinstated – though it seems there is no chance of that happening.
“We will martyr ourselves to protect the legitimacy of his election,” pledged Yahya Dahi from Souag, demonstrating in the hot sun outside the Cairo Republican Guard compound where the deposed president is being held.
Evidence of the dangers facing Egypt were graphically illustrated by a brutal video filmed in Alexandria, which showed two young men being thrown off a building, killing one of them and fuelling fears of revenge attacks. The incident in the Sidi Jaber area was blamed on Islamists.
Cairo was relatively calm after last week’s violence – with the main protests by the rival camps well apart. But in the late afternoon Morsi supporters blocked the main road into the city from the international airport while flag-waving crowds poured into Tahrir Square from all directions.
As their numbers swelled, air force jets streaked across the Nile, emitting contrails in the red, white, and black colours of the Egyptian national flag. Protesters greeted military helicopters flying over the square with green lasers and deafening cheers – as they did last week as the army sought to galvanise popular support for the move against the elected president. It looked like a victory celebration.
Reports from Luxor described attacks on 23 houses belonging to members of the Coptic minority, with police forced to fire tear gas to stop the clashes. A Coptic priest was killed in northern Sinai. Unknown assailants attacked a gas pipeline near El Arish – the first such incident in almost a year.
The Egyptian army warned the public to avoid spreading rumours or using inflammatory language. But Morsi supporters denounced the defence minister, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as a “traitor”.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a formerly militant Islamist group, called for the removal of Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour. The Brotherhood calls the army’s move a military coup. Opponents call it a continuation of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Demonstrators in Tahrir Square carried English-language placards attacking US media for using the word “coup” in their coverage and lambasted the US president, Barack Obama, for failing to endorse Morsi’s overthrow.
Statements from the Egyptian presidency insisted that the new political arrangements would be inclusive. “We extend our hand to everyone,” a spokesman said. “The Muslim Brotherhood has plenty of opportunities to run for all elections including the coming presidential elections or the ones to follow.”
But it was also confirmed that four of the Brotherhood’s most senior leaders were in detention facing accusations of inciting violence against protesters – reinforcing the impression that an effort is under way to decapitate the movement’s by removing its senior ranks.
And in another sign that the tables have turned on the Brotherhood, judges acquitted 12 activists accused of inciting attacks against the Islamist movement’s headquarters in March.
Morsi supporters held mass prayers at noon and chanted slogans outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the site of a 10-day-long pro-Morsi sit-in that has served as a temporary base for the Brotherhood’s leadership since last week’s destruction of its headquarters – one of the triggers for this latest chapter in Egypt’s continuing political drama.
Brotherhood stewards maintained security at the entrances to the area and there were signs of readiness for trouble, with long leather-covered wooden batons for sale and some young men wearing hard hats.
Overall, the army seems to be in firm control of the situation, with state media energetically playing up support for the new status quo.
The US meanwhile, appeared anxious to distance itself from claims it was interfering unduly in Egyptian affairs. Obama “condemned the ongoing violence across Egypt and expressed concern over the continued political polarisation,” according to a White House statement.
The president “reiterated that the United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group”. Washington has been criticised for being too close to Morsi.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, warned during a visit to Kazakhstan: “Syria is already in the grips of a civil war, unfortunately enough, and Egypt is moving in that direction. We would like to see the Egyptian people avoid this fate.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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