CAIRO, Egypt – Islamists massed Saturday in a new show of force to demand the army restore Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, after 24 hours of ferocious violence killed 37 people and injured more than 1,400.
Tears flowed freely as thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters mourned four members of the movement killed in the violence that erupted during protests against the military’s ouster on Wednesday of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The imam told mourners gathered outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the Cairo neighbourhood of Nasr City, where the Islamists have camped for the past 10 days, to pray for the “martyrs of legitimacy”.
Wearing green headbands, Islamists in their thousands, including many fully veiled women, waved Egyptian flags and pictures of the deposed president.
Morsi, who has been in detention since overnight on Wednesday, had issued a defiant call for his Brotherhood supporters to protect his elected “legitimacy”, in a recorded speech aired hours after his removal that day.
Saturday’s funerals follow shooting between soldiers and Morsi supporters outside the Republican Guard headquarters on Friday that the official MENA news agency said killed four demonstrators.
The atmosphere was tense as interim leader Adly Mansour met army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ministers and the Tamarod group that engineered the mass demonstrations culminating in Morsi’s ouster.
The grassroots campaign Tamarod, Arabic for Rebellion, has urged its supporters to demonstrate again on Sunday, foreshadowing further confrontation.
Anti-Morsi protesters have meanwhile set up checkpoints in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square after a night of deadly fighting nearby.
Groups call for peaceful protests
A coalition of Islamist groups had called on Saturday for “civilised protests and peaceful sit-ins in Cairo until the military coup is reversed and the legitimate president is restored”.
Despite talk of peaceful protests, residents of one Cairo district reported that bearded Islamists armed with machineguns, machetes and sticks clashed with them as they passed through their district overnight.
“The Brotherhood attacked the area with all kinds of weapons,” said Mohammed Yehya, who said he lost three friends in the mayhem.
His claim could not be verified, but many other residents gave similar accounts.
In response, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party told AFP: “Not everyone with a beard belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Violence overnight between Morsi supporters and opponents elsewhere in Cairo and in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where pitched battles raged, killed at least 37 people and injured around 1,000, medics said.
The bloodletting continued on Saturday with gunmen killing a Coptic Christian priest by dragging him from his car and riddling him with bullets in the restive north of the Sinai peninsula, security souces said.
That killing came after armed Morsi supporters stormed the provincial headquarters in the Sinai town of El-Arish and raised the black banner of Al-Qaeda-inspired militants on Friday night, an AFP correspondent said.
Morsi’s first year of turbulent rule was marked by accusations that he failed the 2011 revolution by concentrating power in Brotherhood hands and letting the economy nosedive.
US calls for calm
Police meanwhile have arrested top Islamists including Khairat El-Shater, widely seen as the most powerful man behind Morsi in the Brotherhood.
The United States joined UN chief Ban Ki-moon in calling for a peaceful end to the crisis.
“We call on all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
General Sisi announced Morsi’s overthrow on Wednesday night, citing his inability to end a deepening political crisis.
The Islamists accuse the military of launching a brazen coup, after millions called for Morsi’s ouster on the June 30 anniversary of his maiden year in power.
The armed forces have already sworn in Mansour as interim president, and his first decree on Friday dissolved the Islamist-led parliament and appointed a new intelligence chief.
Morsi is being “preventively detained”, a senior military officer told AFP.
A judicial source said the prosecution would on Monday begin questioning Brotherhood members, including Morsi, for “insulting the judiciary”.
Coincidentally, Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a popular uprising that led to the election which made Morsi the new president, appeared in court on Saturday when his retrial for alleged complicity in the killings of protesters in 2011 resumed.
The 85-year-old appeared in the dock behind bars, wearing dark sunglasses and a white prison uniform.
During the televised hearing, Cairo’s criminal court heard defence submissions before adjourning proceedings until August 17. – Rappler.com