Protesters against the Egyptian army’s removal of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi plan to maintain their sit-ins and rallies after a day when tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the capital.
While protest leaders such as Safwat Hegazy, an Islamic scholar and Muslim Brotherhood supporter, told crowds in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo yesterday that rallies wouldn’t end until Mursi is reinstated, the U.S. and Germany called for the ousted leader to be released from army custody.
Crowds gathered in front of Cairo University, in Ramsis Square and in Nasr City, where some erected tents. Banners described Defense Minister Abdelfatah Al-Seesi as a “traitor” and Mursi as the legitimate president.
“It is not in our hands anymore,” Hussein Ibrahim, secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, said by phone. “The protests are spontaneous and any means of peaceful protesting are encouraged.”
Security forces have detained Brotherhood officials since the military swept Mursi from power July 3 on a wave of protests from critics who accused him of monopolizing power for the Islamists.
Prosecutors issued arrest warrants on July 10 for Mohammed Badie, the group’s top official, and nine other Islamists on grounds they incited a confrontation in Cairo on July 8 in which more than 50 people, most of them Mursi loyalists, were killed in clashes with the army.
Amid the turmoil, the new prime minister, Hazem El-Beblawi, is trying to form a government that will be asked to revive a crumbling economy and end deep political rifts.
El-Beblawi said in a phone interview yesterday that he plans to announce the Cabinet by the end of next week. “The shape of the Cabinet is 90 percent completed,” he said.
Yesterday’s protests included supporters of Mursi and others who, while they opposed him, believe “they are facing a complete military coup,” Ibrahim said.
The U.S. call yesterday for Mursi’s release was the first time it’s made such an appeal since he was taken into army custody. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer also said he should be freed.
“We do agree” that Mursi should be released, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. “We’ve expressed concerns from the beginning” about Mursi’s detention and “the politically motivated arbitrary arrests of other Muslim Brotherhood members.”
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the situation in Egypt by phone yesterday with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the White House said in a statement. The two leaders agreed on the need to ensure Egypt’s stability, and Obama voiced his concerns over political violence there, the White House said.
A police officer was killed and another was wounded yesterday when a rocket-propelled grenade fired by unidentified attackers hit their armored vehicle while on patrol on El-Arish airport road in the Sinai peninsula, the Interior Ministry said. Early today, Egyptian army helicopters fired missiles at two sport-utility vehicles in the northern Sinai, setting them on fire, the Al-Shorouk newspaper said on its website, citing eyewitnesses.
Among the protesters in Cairo yesterday were Egyptians who said they didn’t show up to support the Brotherhood or Mursi.
“I am afraid of chaos, I am not a member of the Brotherhood, but I am here to protect my voice,” said Hany Belal, 40, a laborer. “Coups can’t depose an elected president.”
Egyptian army helicopters flew over Mursi supporters in Rabaa el-Adawiya square and scattered leaflets on the crowd, Al-Jazeera reported. One leaflet, posted on the Facebook page of Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, called on protesters to end their rallies, promising exemption from prosecution if they did.
The government’s priority will be “security first, then the economy,” El-Beblawi said in an interview with the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, expressing confidence the army will be able to restore security in the Sinai.
The political unrest and security incidents won’t affect the safety of shipping in the Suez Canal, he said. The 193-kilometer (120-mile) waterway handles 8 percent of world trade, connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
El-Beblawi faces a challenge from the Brotherhood’s refusal to participate in talks. The group rejects the opposition’s argument that the military intervened in response to mass protests fueled by complaints that Mursi hijacked the democratic process to try to impose an Islamist agenda and monopolize power.
The new government must tackle an economy that’s stuck in its worst slowdown in two decades. Unemployment is at a record high, and foreign reserves are less than half their levels in December 2010, two months before longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was toppled in the popular uprising that eventually ushered Mursi into power.
The U.S. has said it will continue to provide assistance to Egypt.
Egypt has received aid pledges from Arab countries: Kuwait extended a $4 billion aid package on July 10, adding to the $8 billion promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Yields on the government’s $1 billion of Eurobonds due 2020 gained 4 basis points as of 8:30 p.m. in Cairo yesterday, reversing two days of declines. The EGX 30 Index of stocks on July 11 slipped 0.9 percent, bringing a drop in the week to 1.1 percent.
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