Police detain a Mursi supporter during clashes in Cairo on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Cairo, Aug. 13 (Reuters): Supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Mursi battled in the streets of downtown Cairo today, showing Egypt remained dangerously split six weeks after the army overthrew him in response to mass unrest against his rule.
As demonstrators hurled rocks at each other and police fired volleys of tear gas, an initiative by Al-Azhar, a top religious authority, to resolve the crisis appeared to inch forward.
The Nour Party, the second biggest Islamist group, forecast that Al-Azhar-backed talks in pursuit of a solution would happen very soon while Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood signalled it was ready to take part as long as they were on the right terms.
Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo’s al-Nahda Square and around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque are the immediate focus of the crisis. Mursi backers stood firm behind barricades today as Egypt’s interim leaders debated how to end their sit-in.
No police crackdown appeared imminent despite frequent warnings from the army-installed government that the protesters should pack up and leave peacefully.
But clashes broke out in central Cairo when a few thousand Mursi supporters marched to the interior ministry.
Pro-army residents and shopworkers taunted them, calling them terrorists and saying they were not welcome. They then threw stones at the marchers, getting showered back in return.
Some hurled bottles at the Mursi supporters from balconies. Police then fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Women and children marchers fled the scene in panic. The clashes spread to several streets and brought Cairo traffic to a standstill.
“There’s no going forward with negotiations, the only way is back. Mursi must be reinstated,” said Karim Ahmed, a student in a blue hard-hat who waved a picture of Mursi as he flung rocks at a ministry building.
Mursi took office in June 2012 as Egypt’s first freely elected leader following the overthrow of long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising the previous year. But he failed to get to grips with a deep economic malaise and worried many Egyptians with his apparent efforts to tighten Islamist rule of the most populous Arab nation despite its social diversity.
The army removed him amid huge demonstrations against his rule. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders are now in detention.
Foreign mediators say the Brotherhood must accept that Mursi will not be restored. At the same time, the authorities must bring the Brotherhood back into the political process, they say. Since Mursi was forced out, the army has installed a new administration led by Adli Mansour, a judge. In a shakeup with echoes of the past, he swore in at least 18 new provincial governors today, half of them retired generals.
“It is Mubarak’s days,” prominent blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah wrote on his Twitter feed. “Down down with every Mubarak. Sisi is Mubarak,” he added, referring to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who deposed Mursi.
Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group, said it was a partial return to the status quo ante. “This move would likely play into Islamist accusations that the new regime is an attempt at reviving the old one,” he said.
The Brotherhood suggested today it would be willing to join a meeting called by Al-Azhar, whose initiative is the only known effort to end the crisis peacefully.
“If they stick to the rules we’re asking for, yes,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said, adding that talks must be based on the “restoration of constitutional legitimacy”. But the Brotherhood would oppose proposals made by Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb because he had supported the army’s overthrow of Mursi, Haddad said.