Details about the clash between Morsy supporters and the army are yet to emerge, but eyewitnesses say there have been casualties.
Angry supporters attempting to storm the heavily-guarded barracks where deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is supposedly being held were met with a hail of gunfire on Friday afternoon — signalling a violent mutation of the rising protests in the Islamist supporters of the former President have begun to mount.
Details about the clash are yet to emerge, but eyewitnesses say there have been casualties. A blame-game on who started the violence — the protesters or troops who were responding to the sight of advancing crowds — seems set to commence.
The sharp bursts of violence over the last 48 hours seem symptomatic of the reservoirs of fury accumulated by the supporters of the former elected President, who was brought down by a bloodless military coup on Wednesday. Mr. Morsy’s forced exit seems to have united Islamists of all shades, feeding into their painful collective memory of conspiratorial confrontations with the military for decades.
The news of the clash near the presidential guard barracks fuelled fresh nervous energy into the massive rally organised by supporters at Cairo’s Nasser city, named after modern Egypt’s founding President. From the stage, the assembled crowds in their tens of thousands were advised to stay peaceful, and not to engage in confrontations with the military. But the atmosphere at the rally was palpably tense. Dozens of armoured personnel carriers that were positioned at strategic locations around the venue added to the anxiety. A sense of déjà vu also prevailed on account of the regular aerial sweeps of a military helicopter, reminiscent of the practice that was followed in 2011 during the last days of the former President, Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
On Friday, the Apache helicopter also circled Tahrir Square — the emblem of a united Egyptian uprising against Mr. Mubarak, but which now morphed into a symbol of Egypt’s deep secularist-Islamist divide. In the run up to Mr. Morsy’s exit, hundreds of thousands of his opponents had packed the square, their angst turning into an explosion of joy after the military announced that the Islamist President had been deposed. But by Friday afternoon, the assemblage of Mr. Morsy’s supporters at Nasser City had become the focal point, and announcement of a “million-man” rally at Tahir was yet to materialise.
Overnight the military had declared emergency at two strategic points: the Suez province that is crucial for the flow of international trade and Sinai, which is not far from Israel. The army has been jolted by a rocket attack, presumably by Islamic extremists, at an army checkpoint in Sinai, and another on a police station at the border with Gaza.
Analysts point out that the Americans have been urging the Egyptian military not to leave any stone unturned to safeguard the free flow of trade through the Suez and to arrest the deterioration of security close to the border with Israel.
So far Washington has tacitly supported the change of guard in Egypt.
The careful decision of the U.S. not to categories the takeover of government by the armed forces as a military coup is significant. Otherwise, the Americans under their domestic law — which bars flow of aid to any country where a military coup has toppled an elected government — would have been forced to impose economic curbs on Egypt.
On Friday, U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay warned that “there should be no more violence, no arbitrary detention, no illegal acts of retribution”. The African Union (AU) on Friday suspended Egypt from all its activities following the coup.
So far, the military is finding it hard to subscribe to the expectations of rights groups. Apart from Mr. Morsy, the top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood to which the former President belongs, is behind bars. The arrested include the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat El-Shater.