Update 9: Mass rallies support Egypt's army; deadly clashes in Cairo, Alexandria

Bel Trew, Ayat Al-Tawy, Osman El-Sharnoubi, Randa Ali, Sherif Tarek, Friday 26 Jul 2013

Mass rival rallies in Egypt lead to deadly violence in Cairo and Alexandria as millions heed calls by Egypt’s military chief to give him a popular mandate to confront ‘violence and terrorism’

Tahrir square
Egyptian pro-army protesters pack the iconic Tahrir square on Friday (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Clashes pitting supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi against pro-military protesters and security forces led to deaths in Cairo and Alexandria as millions took to the streets to heed a call by army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to confront ‘violence and terrorism’.

Nine people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in in scuffles in Egypt’s second biggest city Alexandria on Friday, the health ministry said, while at least 10 died in Cairo in the early hours of Saturday after Morsi supporters were confronted by riot police, according to a makeshift hospital at a nearby Islamist sit-in. 

Hundreds were also wounded nationwide, including at least seven policemen, health ministry officials said. A security source told state-run news agency MENA that 53 Brotherhood members were arrested for wielding arms.

Estimated millions took to the streets in Cairo and other governorates to support the army in scenes reminiscent of the 30 June demonstrations that led to the overthrow of President Morsi, whose supporters are still holding firm on their demand to reinstate him.

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Cairo's Tahrir Square and the Ittihadiya presidential palace, giving Minister of Defence El-Sisi the popular "mandate" he had asked for in a speech on Wednesday to "deal with violence and potential terrorism."

Demonstrators filled the epicenter of the 2011 revolution as well as the nearby Qasr El-Nil Bridge and Maspero while repeating pro-military slogans and chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood, from which toppled president Morsi hails.

According to Ahram Online's reporter on the field, a number of high ranking police officers joined the pro-military protesters in Tahrir.

The officers were welcomed with cheers and chants of "the army, the police and the people are one hand." Protesters held posters of army chief El-Sisi, and pictures showing the Islamic crescent and the Christian cross as a symbol of national unity.

"It's a wonderful day. We lost a year of Egypt under Mohamed Morsi who only brought us injustice; he destroyed tourism, the media, and the economy," protester Khaled Mostafa, an employee in the justice ministry, told Ahram Online.

"We were pleased with the announcement this morning that Morsi was being detained. We believe all the Muslim Brotherhood cronies should be locked up forever including [Mohamed] El-Beltagy, Essam El-Erian, Hafez, all of them," he added.

In a largely festive atmosphere, flag-waving Egyptians chanted pro-army slogans and car drivers honked their horns in many parts of Cairo, including the upscale districts of Mohandessin and Zamalek.

Tahrir and Ittihadeya palace, which is located in Cairo's Heliopolis district, were filled with enthusiastic demonstrators who aimed to support the army in its tug-of-war with the faltering Brotherhood.

Dozens of police and military armoured vehicles were stationed around Tahrir Square and Ittihadeya as hundreds of thousands turned up.

Earlier on Friday, an Egyptian court ordered that the deposed president be detained for 15 days pending investigations for allegedly collaborating with the Palestinian Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, to escape from Wadi El-Natroun Prison and destroy prison records during the 2011 uprising.

Morsi has been held incommunicado at a secret location since he was removed from the presidency by Egypt's military on 3 July following mass nationwide protests.

Many of the protesters who chanted against the Muslim Brotherhood in Tahrir told Ahram Online that they were in the square to defend the country "against terrorism."

"Everyone wants Sisi to fight against terrorism, and those terrorists are the people who support violence no matter what side they are on, pro- or anti-Morsi," said Ines Omar, a business development assistant.

"This deadlock won't and can't last forever, because the majority of the people are against violence and just want the country to get back on its feet. These people, myself included, are way more than those people at [the pro-Morsi sit-in at] Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque."

Violence near Cairo sit-in

The area surrounding Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, which has been the venue of the massive pro-Morsi sit-in since 28 June in Cairo's populous Nasr City, has seen an unprecedentedly high turnout of the Morsi’s loyalists, according to Ahram Online's reporters.

The atmosphere was relatively calm until the early hours of Saturday when at least ten Morsi supporters were killed after clashes with security forces, according to Omar Amer, a doctor at the sit-in makeshift hospital.

Some 500 were also injured as violence erupted near the Unknown Soldier Memorial, located nearly one km away from Rabaa Al-Adawyia, according to Amer.

State news agency MENA reported that police forces led a crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters for seeking to block the nearby Six of October Bridge.

Morsi supporters remain largely outnumbered by their opponents in Cairo, as well as other cities including Nile Delta's Mansoura, Luxor in Upper Egypt and the northern city of Alexandria.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Co. keep arguing that the military-backed ouster of Morsi was an illegitimate coup d’état, while military leaders say they responded to the will of the people after millions thronged the streets to demand an end to Morsi's rule.

Mohamed El-Aidi, a 30-year-old businessman, said he brought his wife and one-year-old son to Rabaa Al-Adawiya to call for Morsi's reinstatement. "Where is my voice?" El-Aidi told Ahram Online, saying that he democratically elected Morsi in 2012 and now feels his voice was "stolen."

El-Aidi also accused El-Sisi of favouring the anti-Morsi camp, calling on the army to reject his position.

Another protester at Rabaa, a 56-year-old doctor who identified himself as Hussein, said: "The army calls us terrorists but you see thousands of people here peacefully protesting."

"How come we're terrorists? We have been vilified, shot at, gassed, and they have illegally detained our president and will try to clear this sit-in."

Clashes broke out quite frequently the past few weeks between pro and anti Morsi protesters across Egypt. On many occasions, both sides used firearms against each other, resulting in tens of deaths.

There has also been recurrent violence between Morsi supporters and security forces.

"Who is in Tahrir? The police, the army and the old regime are," Hussein added. "We have the president, the constitution, and legitimacy. It's simple, we're staying put."

Morsi was toppled as part of the armed forces' roadmap for Egypt following the mass nationwide protests against Morsi. The 2012 constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, was also frozen pending amendments as part of the roadmap.

For his side, Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour has called on supporters of Morsi to call-off their sit-ins, promising they will not be harmed.

Another sit-in staged by pro-Morsi supporters is located in Giza's Al-Nahda Square in front of Cairo University.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said during a telephone interview with private Egyptian TV channel Al-Hayat 2 that pro-Morsi sit-ins will be "legally" dispersed soon.

Alexandria deaths

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, at least nine were killed and 146 injured in clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents.

The clashes reportedly broke out in Mahatet Al-Raml district in Egypt’s second-largest city after pro-military protesters who were marching against “terrorism” passed near a demonstration by supporters of Morsi at Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque.

According to Ahram’s Arabic news website, security forces fired teargas in the vicinity of the clashes to disperse protesters.

Clashes also erupted between supporters and opponents of Morsi in the central Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra, witnesses told AFP.

Live footage on satellite station ONTV showed crowds throwing rocks at each other in the neighbourhood. Medics said clashes left at least 10 injured.

Confrontations also broke out in Upper Egypt's Luxor and Mahalah, located in the Delta governorate of Gharbiya.

In the Nile Delta city of Gharbiya, ten people – including a police officer – were injured in scuffles between loyalists and opponents of Egypt's toppled Islamist leader early Friday morning.

Meanwhile, clashes remain ongoing in Sinai between pro-Morsi militant groups and the security forces. Dozens have been killed in the restive peninsula since the beginning of the month.

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