26 Jul 2013

Two dead in Egypt as thousands take to the streets

Two people have been killed and at least 19 injured as rival protesters clash in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria. Tens of thousands are on the streets of the capital, Cairo.

Huge crowds have turned out across the country after Egypt‘s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged people to join mass rallies, to give the army a “mandate” to end weeks of violence which followed the overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi.

Army supporters packed the capital’s Tahrir Square, surrounded by heavy security, with tanks guarding one entrance to the square and helicopters flying overhead.

According to reports from Cairo, at least 11 people were injured when rival groups clashed in the Shubra neighbourhood of the city.

Violence also broke out in the second city, Alexandria, as opposing sides faced off. Two people have been reported killed, one of them said to be a 14 year old boy who was stabbed in the stomach.

Earlier, a court ordered Morsi to remain in detention for another 15 days, as inquiries continue into suspected collaboration with the Palestinian group Hamas.

He is being accused of a series of charges, including murder, involvement with attacks on police stations and army officers, as well as a mass prison breakout in January 2011 during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

At the time, Morsi told al-Jazeera Mubasher television in a hurried phone call that Egyptians had helped the prisoners to escape, not foreigners. Hamas has strenuously denied any involvement.

Supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have been staging a sit-in protest in central Cairo for almost a month, demanding his release: almost 200 people have been killed during weeks of clashes between the rival groups.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad described the charges against Morsi as “nothing more than the fantasy of a few army generals and a military dictatorship”, and said the vigil would continue.

Army warning

Thousands of people began gathering at the site of the vigil in north east Cairo on Friday afternoon, chanting “Our blood and our souls for Islam”. The army has threatened to “turn its guns” on anyone who provokes violence.

“We will not initiate any move, but will definitely react harshly against any calls for violence or black terrorism from Brotherhood leaders or their supporters”, an army spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

The Egyptian interior ministry has warned of “unprecedented measures” to protect people and property, while leaflets have been dispersed by helicopter calling on protestors to remain peaceful.

The United States has expressed its concern about the possibility of more bloodshed, after delaying a planned delivery of four F-16 fighter jets destined for the Egyptian military.

The Obama administration has consistently refused to say whether the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi constituted a coup, a decision which would mean the end of American aid.

Abandoning Egypt would be a particularly poor policy choice. Robert Menendez, Senate foreign relations committee

The chair of the influential Senate foreign relations committee, Robert Menendez, said assistance should continue, for now. “Abandoning Egypt would be a particularly poor policy choice”, he said, although he warned that US support “is not unconditional and unending”.

The former Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross told Senate hearings that if aid was to be cut off, “we would find a backlash among the Egyptian public…(who) would look at this as an American effort to dictate to them against the popular will.”

Western governmnents have repeatedly called for Morsi’s release and a return to democratic government in Egypt. A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, also condemned the new detention order.

“The Egyptian decision is an attempt to drag Hamas into the Egyptian conflict”, he said.

Interim president Adly Mansour has called for a national reconciliation conference and a transitional justice system, to get the country out of its increasingly violent standoff.