Tens of thousands of Islamists poured onto Egypt’s streets on Friday demanding the reinstatement of ousted president Mohammed Mursi, amid warnings by the military of a crackdown on violent protests.
The rallies come a day after Mursi’s army-installed successor President Adly Mansour vowed to fight for stability against opponents he accused of wanting to plunge the crisis-hit country “into the unknown.”
Waving Egyptian flags and chanting slogans, vast crowds of protesters converged near Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where Mursi’s supporters have camped out since his ouster by the army on July 3.
“Tonight, tonight, tonight, Sisi is going down tonight,” a man shouted out, leading the chants. A huge banner showed a picture of Mursi against Egyptian flags and read: “Together to support legitimacy.”
Two formations of fighter jets roared over the city after noon prayers ended. Four army helicopters circled, while another five, trailing Egyptian flags, flew low over Cairo roof tops, in a clear show of strength by the military.
Smaller rallies took off elsewhere in Cairo and several towns across Egypt after Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood had called for a day of protests dubbed “Breaking the Coup.”
“(It) will be a famous day, a very important day in the history of the Egyptian revolution,” prominent Brotherhood member Farid Ismail had told AFP before the protests started.
Mansour, who was installed as interim leader after the popularly backed coup, pledged to rein in those who wanted to push Egypt “into the unknown.”
“We are going through a critical stage and some want us to move towards chaos and we want to move towards stability. Some want a bloody path,” he said in a televised address. “We will fight a battle for security until the end. We will preserve the revolution.”
Although mostly peaceful, the protests by Mursi loyalists have led to deadly clashes with security forces, with the unrest claiming more than 100 lives in all, according to an AFP tally.
In the worst single incident, at least 53 people died, mostly Mursi supporters, during clashes with soldiers outside a Cairo army barracks where they believed the deposed president was being held.
The military on Thursday warned it would decisively confront any violence in the protests.
“The armed forces warn against any deviation from peaceful expressions of opinion, and the resort to violence,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
“Whoever resorts to violence in Friday’s protests will endanger his life, and will be treated with utmost decisiveness, within legal bounds,” the statement added.
Separate rallies were also planned for later Friday by anti-Mursi activists in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace, raising the possibility of violence in the capital.
Their demonstrations have been far smaller since the mass rallies clamoring for Mursi’s resignation in the days leading to the coup.
In his speech, Mansour offered an olive branch to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, saying: “The framework of justice and reconciliation extends to all.”
The movement has categorically refused to recognize Mansour’s caretaker government, which was sworn in earlier this week but with Islamist parties and movements totally absent.
Instead the Brotherhood is placing its hopes in sustained protests it believes may reverse the coup that toppled Mursi after nationwide demonstrations against him.
Thousands of Islamists have been camped out around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City, where they have vowed to remain until their goal is achieved, despite the growing anger of residents in the neighborhood.
“We have no problem with continuing for a month, or more than a month,” said the Brotherhood’s Ismail, adding: “We are determined. No one can get us out of this place or any other place.”
Tamarod, the youth movement which organized enormous anti-Mursi protests on June 30, is also planning rallies on Friday, including one close to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Nasr City vigil.
It dubbed its protests as “the people against terrorism”, blaming Mursi followers for recent violence.
Another major challenge facing Egypt’s new government is the security situation in the restive Sinai peninsula, which has witnessed a surge in violence over the past two weeks.
The military began deploying reinforcements on Tuesday, with numerous members of the security forces killed and wounded in drive-by shootings and rocket attacks by suspected Islamist militants.
Three policemen died in separate attacks in north Sinai on Wednesday night and another was shot dead on Thursday, according to security sources, while the armed forces have killed ten jihadis since launching their latest operation.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)