Morsi Loyalists Clash With Soldiers in Cairo Protests

By Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, and Mayy El Sheikh

Egypt islamists

CAIRO — Islamist supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted president, held enormous demonstrations in Cairo on Friday, and thousands of them angrily confronted security forces guarding the compound where he was believed to be held. Witnesses said at least five demonstrators were killed by gunfire.

Many others were wounded in the confrontation, but the precise casualty toll was unclear. Reporters heard multiple volleys of gunshots and saw blood on the streets and demonstrators nursing what appeared to be birdshot wounds. Large numbers of soldiers, rifles at the ready, were perched behind sandbagged barricades in front of the Republican Guard barracks, ringed by barbed wire and believed to be housing Mr. Morsi, the deposed president. The smell of tear gas hung in the air.

“Where’s Morsi? Where’s Morsi?” angry demonstrators screamed, shaking their shoes in disrespect at military helicopters circling them. Many of the Morsi loyalists spoke of martyrdom and said they would not leave the streets until their leader was freed and restored to office, raising the possibility of further violence and a prolonged standoff.

“Everyone here is ready to die,” said a demonstrator who identified himself as Mohamed Ismael, a 41-year-old veterinarian.

The demonstrations were organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies to express their outrage over the ouster and arrest of Mr. Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first freely elected president. He was in power for only a year. Since he was forced out by military commanders Wednesday evening, security forces have arrested dozens of senior Muslim Brotherhood members and shut down its television stations in a widening crackdown.

An interim president installed by the military, the former chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, took a further step on Friday to disempower the vestiges of Mr. Morsi’s government by formally dissolving the Shura Council, the country’s only operating house of Parliament, which had been dominated by the Islamists. The constitutional court had disbanded the lower house last year, one of many challenges Mr. Morsi had faced in his troubled tenure.

Egypt’s military commanders have justified the ouster of Mr. Morsi by saying they felt compelled to bring the country back together after millions of Egyptians demonstrated against him, claiming he had arrogated power, neglected the economy and worsened divisions in society.

Early on Friday, in a sign of the potential resistance to the new order, armed Islamists struck at four security force positions in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing one soldier and wounding two in a rocket attack on a police post in Rafah on the border with Gaza Strip, according to news reports that quoted security officials. Separate rocket attacks were said to have been aimed at military checkpoints at El Arish airport in Sinai.

The Associated Press quoted an Egyptian official as saying the border crossing to the Gaza Strip had been closed indefinitely.

In an apparent show of force, military jets howled over the capital, Cairo, for a second day on Friday, leaving streams of smoke in the red, white and black colors of the national flag. By midday, few protesters appeared to have gathered in Tahrir Square — a focal point of anti-Morsi dissent earlier this week.

At the same time, the military’s move against Mr. Morsi, which has drawn a mixed regional response, seems to have created a degree of isolation within the broader African continent. News reports said the African Union, the Pan-African representative body based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, resolved to suspend Egypt from all its activities in line with rules on the interruption of constitutional rule.

It was already clear by late Thursday that the forced change of power, which had the trappings of a military coup spurred by a popular revolt, had only aggravated the most seething division in Egypt — that between the Muslim Brotherhood and the security apparatus built up by Hosni Mubarak, the president toppled in Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

On Thursday, in a stately ceremony in the country’s highest court, Mr. Mansour was sworn in as the new acting head of state. He said he looked forward to parliamentary and presidential elections that would express the “true will of the people.” Mr. Mansour praised the military’s intervention so that Egypt could “correct the path of its glorious revolution.”

At the same time, security forces held Mr. Morsi incommunicado, Islamist broadcast outlets were closed and prosecutors sought the arrest of hundreds of Mr. Morsi’s Brotherhood colleagues, in a sign that they had the most to lose in Egypt’s latest political convulsion.

“What kind of national reconciliation starts with arresting people?” asked Ebrahem el-Erian after security officials came to his family home before dawn to try to arrest his father, Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood official. “This is complete exclusion.”

Many of the most significant political shifts pointed to the reassertion of the “deep state,” a term often used for the powerful branches of the Mubarak-era government that remained in place after he had been deposed.

Much of that state apparatus has always shown deep distrust of Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their victories in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Mr. Morsi never succeeded in asserting his control over the military, the security services, the judiciary or the sprawling state bureaucracy. Nor was he able to dismantle the support network that Mr. Mubarak and his National Democratic Party cultivated through nearly 30 years in power.

So once the military removed Mr. Morsi, many of these elements set their sights on him and his group.

“What do you call it when the police, state security, old members of the National Democratic Party, the media all rally to bring down the regime?” asked Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “Is that a revolution? If this is the revolution, so be it.”

In his swearing-in address, Mr. Mansour offered an olive branch to the Islamists, saying they were part of Egyptian society and deserved to participate in the political process. The National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group that had pushed for Mr. Morsi’s ouster, also called for inclusive politics.

But in less than 24 hours after the military’s intervention, prosecutors issued arrest warrants for at least 200 Islamists, most members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All were wanted on accusations of incitement to kill demonstrators.

Dozens were arrested, including Mohamed Badie, the group’s supreme guide; his deputy, Rashad Bayoumi; and the head of its political wing, Saad el-Katatni. Also on the wanted list was Khairat el-Shater, the group’s powerful financier and strategist.

The arrest campaign recalled the Muslim Brotherhood’s decades as a banned organization under autocratic rulers.

“This is a police state back in action, and the same faces that were ousted with the Mubarak regime are now appearing on talk shows as analysts,” said a Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, during an interview with Al Jazeera’s English satellite channel.

He repeated a conspiracy theory often cited by Islamists: what appeared to be an easing of electricity cuts and fuel shortages in recent days indicated that the shortfalls had been artificially created to feed discontent.

“Did someone push a magic button, or was this all part of a plot?” Mr. Haddad asked.

In a statement, the Brotherhood denounced “the military coup against the elected president and the will of the nation” and said it would refuse to deal with any resulting authority.

Much remains unclear about the new political structure that will emerge, though Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat, has been chosen to represent the liberal opposition.

In a telephone interview, Mr. ElBaradei sought to justify the military’s intervention, calling it a chance to fix the transition to democracy that he said had gone off track after the ouster of Mr. Mubarak.

“We just lost two and a half years,” he said. “As Yogi Berra said, ‘It is déjà vu all over again,’ but hopefully this time we will get it right.”

He also defended the arrests of Islamists, saying he had been assured that they would receive due process and that the shuttered television outlets had incited violence.

“I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy,” he said.

Many of those who are poised to exercise power in the emerging authority first got their jobs from Mr. Mubarak.

A Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, returned to his office after a court ruling pushed out the man appointed by Mr. Morsi to replace him.

Mr. Mahmoud, who was equally detested by critics of Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Morsi, called his return to office “a message for every ruler: You must respect your judiciary, and you must respect your judges.”

The pre-Morsi foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, was also back in the post on Thursday. Mr. Amr had continued to serve under Mr. Morsi but had been sidelined as Mr. Morsi sent other aides to meetings with President Obama and other officials, and he resigned during Mr. Morsi’s final days, a major blow.

Mr. Amr held a series of meetings with the foreign news media on Thursday aimed at refuting the idea that Egypt had undergone a military coup. He also laughed about his relationship with Mr. Morsi, suggesting that he had given his foreign counterparts his own view of Egypt’s affairs.

“I was presenting the true picture of his country to the outside world,” he said. “I don’t mean to be blowing my own horn, but I believe that was respected by my counterparts.”

Even the police force, much despised by Mr. Mubarak’s opponents for trying to quash the protests that pushed him from power, has sought to portray itself as standing with the people in the new era.

Fahmy Bahgat, an officer who often speaks for the security services, said in a television interview that the generals’ move “returned the police to the arms of the people once more.”

He also threatened those who challenged the new order.

“Whoever tries to show any support for the ousted president will be met with the utmost resolve,” he said.

The prospect of confrontation raised international concern. Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, said in a statement from Geneva that a “concerted effort is needed by all parties to establish sound political and legal institutions.”

“There should be no more violence, no arbitrary detention, no illegal acts of retribution,” she said. “Serious steps should also be taken to halt, and investigate, the appalling — and at times seemingly organized — sexual violence targeting women protesters.”

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Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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