In Egypt, Islamists and opposition clash in street battles


Anger between Egypt’s rival political camps erupted into street battles Wednesday after Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi tore down tents belonging to antigovernment demonstrators, raising the possibility of widening violence over the nation’s proposed constitution.

Pro-Morsi factions overran about 200 protesters camped outside the presidential palace in north Cairo. The clashes came after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party called thousands of its members into the streets in a counter-demonstration to drive opposition movements from the presidential palace.

Shoving and punching spilled down a boulevard as hurled stones, swinging sticks and firebombs filled the dusk in one of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Pro-Morsi contingents, including Brotherhood followers and ultraconservative Salafis, chased opposition activists, shouting: “God is great! The people support the president’s decision!”

More than 200 people were injured across a cityscape that had the charged air of a fluorescent-lit battlefield with competing banners, bandaged men and dinner trays used as shields to block barrages of rocks. Egyptian news reports said clashes spread to other cities, including attacks on several Muslim Brotherhood offices. There were unconfirmed reports of at least three deaths.

Police were slow to react in Cairo but eventually arrived and attempted to separate the two sides, whose skirmishes raised fears that animosity between Islamists and the mainly secular opposition were a dangerous foreshadowing. Both camps threatened marches, and there appeared little compromise in a battle over the nation’s future that symbolizes the larger struggle over political Islam rising from the “Arab Spring.”

“Vicious attack vs. peaceful protesters in front of presidential palace,” tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader. “Regime leading Egypt into violence and bloodshed.”

The clashes exposed new fissures in Morsi’s government from officials disturbed by the power and meddling of the Brotherhood. Three presidential advisors resigned, including Seif Abdel-Fattah, who told the Egyptian news media: “Egypt is bigger than a narrow-minded elite…. We can no longer stay silent because they [the Brotherhood] have harmed the nation and the revolution.”

The defections further marred the credibility of Morsi’s administration at a time when Egypt’s political polarization and continuing unrest have alarmed the international community. The White House, which praised Morsi for his role in negotiating a cease-fire between the militant group Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, is pressing Cairo to calm the crisis.

Written By: Jeffrey Fleishman
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  1. I thought Egypt’s military was ferociously anti-islamist, especially after the trick Morsi pulled, yet not a peep from them.
    I guess there was some cleansing going on.

  2. The situation is so fluid that while on Wednesday the government claimed President Morsi would not rescind (and withdraw the decree about his extra powers), he did precisely that on Saturday!  No doubt he did this in order to avoid more clashes in the streets, however, is that going to be enough to silence the opposition?  I sincerely hope  that the opposition will continue to voice its concerns, especially about the draft of the new constitution which is to be published shortly while being  still very incomplete, but  what’s more important, because it is heavily weighted towards the Islamic point of view.  It does not bode very well for any country, in my opinion, that the country’s constitution in the 21st century is based on the principles of ancient religious law.  I fear the Egyptian Spring will have to run a sequel if that country is to progress into modern era, the alternative is too frightful to contemplate.

  3. i am amazed that a nation could even have voted in a religiously oriented party, and think that they were going to be fair-minded, balanced, and secular in the way they governed. and, also, when i hear names like “the islamic republic of…”, and the like, i wonder how it would be if we also had “the catholic republic of…” or the “christian democratic republic of…”, and so on.  i hope all this is just indicative of the birth pains associated with a world-wide secularism.

  4. Hi Metamag,

    The Egyptian military are not so much anti-islamist, just simply pro-military.

    Whilst our armed forces are perceived as organs subject to the control of democratic powers, the Egyptian military see’s itself as part of a tripartite system of rule comprising themselves, the government, and the judiciary.

    Morsi’s tactic of demanding that the military defend the new constitution by clearing the streets of the opposition is just part of the bun-fight between the three.

    Morsi bowed to the military’s demand that their budget remain a state secret (as it has always been) so they can continue to rob the country, and now wants his own back scratched.

    He has taken on the powerful judiciary, sacked the state prosecutor and tried to give himself powers that cannot be questioned by judicial means at all.

    This has all come about because early elections (supported by many in the west) gave the Brotherhood and Salafists a majority, and as such they now feel they have the right to construct a constitution denying the rights of anybody not belonging to this tripartite system of rule.

    The military simply want stability and the retention of privilege and immunity. It doesn’t matter to them whether it looks democratic or theocratic.

    The Brotherhood have no fear of a form of democracy controlled by a constitution based on sharia.

    The opposition can only appeal to street protests, or a weakened judiciary seeking simply to maintain its own powerbase.

    The problem we potentially have here is that the military hold the balance of power. They are appearing more and more like King Makers.

    This could have been avoided by a slower transition to representative democracy with a draft constitution produced before any elections were held.

    The losers in all this will, as usual, be the Egyptian people in general, and Egyptian woman in particular.


  5. They were, historically, pushing secular culture. However, in recent times they’ve made an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. The fact people are fighting the excesses of this arrangement is heartening, IMO. It’s the same process the less recently democratic countries have been through, remember.

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