Egyptians Demonstrate, Vent Anger on Presidential PalaceTarek El-Tablawy and Caroline Alexander
Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the main presidential palace in Cairo yesterday, as thousands rallied against President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood in protests that ignited clashes across the country.
The army put up barbed wire, and the Republican Guard fanned around the palace. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters armed with the Molotov cocktails that set parts of the palace on fire, the official Middle East News Agency reported, citing an interior ministry official. Security forces also clashed with protesters around President Mohamed Mursi’s house and Freedom and Justice Party headquarters in al-Sharqiya, MENA said.
Protesters in the capital marched from the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque to Tahrir Square, and from the Nour Mosque to the palace. Demonstrators blocked the subway at Sadat station in the direction of the southern Helwan suburb, state-run Ahram Gate said.
Police also fired tear gas at demonstrators in Alexandria and in the Delta province of Kafr al-Sheikh, where protesters were attempting to storm the city’s governorate headquarters, state-run al Ahram said on its website.
One person died and 216 others were wounded in clashes in five provinces, including Egypt, Alexandria and Gharbeya, MENA said, citing spokesman for the Health Ministry Ahmed Omar. It was not clear how many of the injured were police. An unidentified security official at the interior ministry told MENA that 102 police officers and soldiers were wounded, some with gunshot wounds, while 93 people were arrested.
A prosecutor ordered the detention of 19 people pending investigations on charges of sabotage and violence around the presidential palace, the Heliopolis prosecution office said in a faxed statement today.
Egypt’s opposition called Feb. 7 for calm in anticipation of the protests, expressing concern that murder of Tunisian opposition leader Chukri Beleid in Tunis the previous day could trigger further unrest in the region and lead to copycat killings of opposition leaders in Egypt.
Tensions already were running high in Egypt, where Mursi has been accused of failing to deliver on campaign pledges. Unrest and violence, inspired by secularist suspicions over the Islamist leader’s motives, have left dozens dead in the past week and further stunted government efforts to revive the economy, which is struggling to recover from the turmoil that followed the revolt.
The economy has grown about 2 percent annually in the past two years, the slowest pace since the early 1990s. Egypt is seeking a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
Secularists in Egypt interpreted a religious edict by cleric Mohamed Shaaban as giving the go-ahead to kill Mursi’s opponents. The cleric named National Salvation Front opposition leaders such as Hamdeen Sabahi in comments aired live on the al-Hafez religious satellite channel on Feb. 2, and said “God’s verdict is death” for those “who want to burn Egypt.”
Egypt’s Cabinet said Feb. 7 it was examining measures to criminalize such fatwas, while the prosecutor general ordered an investigation.
“This kind of fatwa is the outcome of the polarization that has dominated the Egyptian political atmosphere” in recent months, Khalil al-Anani, a political analyst at Durham University in the U.K., said by phone. The edict, and Beleid’s assassination, are “very dangerous indicators that the political conflict can turn violent” if the Islamists fail to take a firm stance against incitements to violence.
Beleid’s death “is a very serious warning,” the Popular Current party, headed by former presidential hopeful Sabahi, said on its Facebook page. “It could mean the Arab Spring countries might go through a series of assassinations of the opposition.”