Millions of opposition protesters hit the streets across Egypt to call for the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Sunday (which marked the end of his first year in office), with violence in leaving at least seven dead.
Hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis district and in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 revolution and the prime venue of many opposition demonstrations.
There were jubilant but defiant scenes at both protests, with huge crowds of protesters chanting that the beleaguered president “must go” and stressing that they “will not leave” until their demands are fulfilled.
“We’re staying put until Morsi resigns,” said Hawash Heikel, a 58-year-old lawyer, as he set up camp for the night in Tahrir Square. “I have travelled all the way from [the Nile Delta governorate of] Menoufiya. We’ve come in a group to say that Egypt made a contract with the president when we went to the ballot box, and he has broken that agreement.”
Heikel listed a number of common grievances echoed by protesters in Tahrir Square and across the country, including worsening fuel shortages and electricity cuts.
“Instead of telling us how he is going to fix these issues that are making our daily lives hell, he keeps talking about the big picture, and how Egypt is ‘moving forward.’ But he doesn’t give specifics,” he said.
The anti-Morsi Rebel campaign, which spearheaded the nationwide demonstrations, has called on all political parties and movements to leave their banners at home and unite, resulting in a sea of Egyptian flags.
Protesters carried red cards reading “Leave” in a symbolic gesture calling for the president’s ouster.
“Look around you,” said Ahmed Nagah, a 47-year-old teacher, gesturing to the crowds.”Today is a huge success.”
Nagah, who voted for Amr Moussa in last year’s presidential polls, explains how Morsi “has broken the rules” and lost his legitimacy. Nagah supports the Rebel campaign’s calls for the head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court to take over as interim president until snap elections are held.
Further into the mass of people banging drums and shouting slogans against Morsi, 43-year-old engineer Abdel-Rehim Kamal voiced a common grievance.
“Morsi is exactly the same as [ousted president] Hosni Mubarak. He is following in his footsteps,” he said.
More protests nationwide
Similar scenes occurred in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, where protester Sarah Mamdouh told Ahram Online that Morsi had lost his legitimacy by “his dictatorial decisions and his inability to listen to other political opinions.”
They played out elsewhere across the country – in Gharbiya, Ismailia, Sharqiya and Menoufiya – where anti-Morsi protesters blocked the Cairo-Alexandria agricultural road, declaring it “closed by order of the people.”
There was a significant anti-American sentiment in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, meanwhile, with US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson the butt of numerous jokes by angry posters.
Just a few kilometres across the city from the presidential palace demonstrations, Islamist groups continue their sit-in in support of the president, spear-headed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Supporters of the president maintain that Morsi was legitimately elected through democratic elections. Therefore, they say, the only way to remove him from office is through the ballot box.
Nevertheless, those who are currently gathered for the anti-government demonstrations say they will stay put until Morsi leaves.
“The big difference between now and then is that when we first went out in January 2011, we did not start out by calling for the toppling of the president,” April 6 Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher told Ahram Online.
“But now we have a clear demand: We want the president to leave,” he said.
Deadly violence in Upper Egypt
At least three protesters have been killed in Upper Egypt’s Assiut city, chief of security in the city, General Abou El-Qassem Abou El-Deif, said in a press statement. The three had been part of an anti-Morsi protest of thousands that was attacked by unknown assailants as they were marching near the Freedom and Justice Party’s headquarters.
According to Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language website, one of the slain, Abanob Atef, was killed after being shot in the head by gunmen on a motorcycle.
Egyptian Health Minister Mohamed Hamed had earlier confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ammar Gouda, a protester killed in Beni Suef when unknown assailants opened fire on an anti-Morsi protest.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party have released a statement claiming the victim was one of their members.
Atef Marzouk, a leading member of the Islamist group in Beni Suef, accused opponents of President Morsi of initiating the attack by firing birdshot at a pro-Morsi march. “We defended ourselves until one of us was martyred,” said Marzouk.
Earlier, journalist Shaimaa Mafhouz told Ahram Online that a thousand-strong anti-Morsi rally in Beni Suef was fired at.
“A number of assailants, accused by protesters of being Islamist supporters of Morsi, attacked the rally…Some clusters of protesters scattered and hid inside the mosques surrounding the square; at the same time the armed forces mobilised to contain the situation,” she said.
“Assailants continued briefly to fire at the mosques where protesters were hiding, but they ran away when the army arrived,” Mahfouz added.
The Beni Suef office of the Egyptian Popular Current, a leftist group led by opposition leader Hamdeen Sabbahi, also claimed in a statement that 30 members of “the jihadist movement” in Beni Suef had fired at the protest and that several protesters had been injured.
Mahfouz, for her part, told Ahram Online that she saw a child injured with a bullet to the shoulder.
Ahram Online has not been able to independently verify Sunday’s events in Beni Suef.
In Fayoum, an 18-year-old teenager was killed after being shot in the head in clashes between the supporters and opponents of Morsi.
The Egyptian health ministry reported that the injury toll across the nation, meanwhile, had reached 613. Cairo, Alexandria, Daqahliya, Gharbiya, Menoufiya, Beni Suef and Beheira are among the governorates that witnessed violence.
Violence also flared between supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, where Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language news website reported the use of firearms, birdshot and blunt weapons.
Brotherhood’s Cairo HQ attacked
Back in Cairo, at least two were killed when the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Moqattam district came under attack in the evening.
Hundreds of people throwing petrol bombs and rocks attacked the building, which caught fire as guards and Brotherhood members inside the building, which has been the target of several similar attacks this year, exchanged gunfire with attackers.
Local TV channels showed civilians being carried away with bloody head wounds.
Eyewitnesses told Ahram Online that assailants and Brotherhood members fired birdshot at each other, resulting in a number of injured, including a police officer. Parts of the building’s exterior were burnt in the melee.
Senior FJP official Gehad El-Hadad said via Twitter hinted that the assailants may be linked to the banned ‘Black Bloc’ group, a term used to refer to young men wearing black masks who often resort to violence during protests.
Several other Brotherhood-affiliated offices were also assaulted.
A number of Brotherhood buildings have come under attack as tensions have mounted in the lead-up to the 30 June demonstrations, with the group’s offices in Alexandria and the Nile Delta governorates of Sharqiya, Gharbiya and Beheira being firebombed or ransacked.
At least seven people have been killed since Wednesday in clashes between rival protesters.
Morsi supporters soldier on
At the open-ended sit-in staged outside Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, some five kilometres away from the presidential palace, hundreds of thousands (mainly Islamists) maintained their support for the embattled president despite mass opposition protests nationwide.
Morsi supporters remain gathered outside the mosque in Nasr City, where they held a sit-in for the third consecutive day on Sunday. They continued to chant for Morsi and his democratic legitimacy, and vociferously strike out at his opponents.
“We will give up over our dead bodies,” Haj Ali Ahmed Yussif, a Brotherhood member from Daqahliya, told Ahram Online reporter Eslam Omar.
“We are four million at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and we are waiting for another six million to be ten. They will have to kill us all before they violate [Morsi’s democratic] legitimacy,” Yussif, a merchant, insisted.
Amir Bassam, Shura Council member from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, had earlier told Orbit TV that crowds supporting President Morsi around Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo were more than all of Egypt’s anti-Morsi protesters combined.
Yet given the numbers of people reported in Tahrir Square and at the presidential palace – both of which remain packed to bursting – this seems highly unlikely.
Another Brotherhood member, Ahmed Shata, a researcher at Mansoura University, expressed indifference regarding the huge number of protesters demanding Morsi’s ouster.
“We will stay [at Rabaa Al-Adawiya]. Nobody will dare touch the presidential palace, otherwise we will eat them whole,” he said.
“We don’t care about our headquarters. Let them burn 50 of them; we’ll build another 500,” Shata added. “All that matters to us now is the presidency.”