Tens of thousands march for ousted Egyptian leader
By TONY G. GABRIEL
CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied Friday in cities across Egypt, vowing to sustain for months their campaign to restore deposed President Mohammed Morsi to power.
Ten days after the military coup that toppled him, however, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its allies appear to have failed to bring a significantly wider segment of Egyptian society into the streets on their side.
The new military-backed administration of interim President Mansour Adly, along with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni Muslim institution, floated offers for “national reconciliation.” Newly appointed Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi is reportedly promising to finish assembling his Cabinet by next week, a government official told Egypt’s state news agency. A presidential spokesman has said the Muslim Brotherhood will be offered posts.
The Brotherhood remains steadfast in its opposition, saying its supporters will stay in the streets for as long as it takes to force the reinstatement of Morsi, who was overthrown July 3 after four days of massive protests demanding his ouster.
At the main Islamist rally in Cairo, the crowd poured into a large boulevard in front of the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque, where Morsi supporters have been camped for two weeks.
Egyptian flags, which were fewer in their previous rallies, outnumbered the usual green Islamic banners emblazoned with the Muslim profession of faith — a move to show their movement’s broader appeal. Chants and slogans focused on the military, many branding the army chief a “traitor.”
“We are ready to stay for a month, two months, a year, or even two years,” ultraconservative Salafi cleric Safwat Hegazi told protesters from a stage.
The demonstrators there seem to have dug in for a long sit-in. Tents have been erected and toilets have been set up with brick walls for privacy. Protesters with helmets, homemade body shields and sticks guarded the site, which has drawn Morsi supporters from other provinces.
Army troops are staying about a kilometer (half-mile) away to avoid direct confrontations. On Monday, there were clashes with security forces near the Republican Guard headquarters not far from the site, with more than 50 people killed. Both sides blamed the other for the bloodshed.
Friday’s call for demonstrations had sparked fears of further clashes but no violence was reported.
Now that the holy month of Ramadan has begun, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, many of the protesters rested in their tents, reading the Quran or sleeping. After nightfall, the crowd got renewed energy.
“We have a daily routine of prayers and Quran recitations, then marches around the sit-in,” said Hassan al-Ghandoor, a tailor from the Nile Delta who arrived on the day of the military coup and hasn’t left since.
“The level of spirituality of this place helps us put up with the daily difficulties,” he said. “We are here for an objective, and we will stay here until it is accomplished.”
Thousands more rallied across the Nile River in city of Giza, and Morsi supporters held a series of marches around the capital, converging on the main site. Protests were held in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other cities.
The Brotherhood and other Islamists face the question of how to step up their campaign. So far, they have succeeded in bringing out strong numbers of their own ranks — but there has been little sign of attracting a larger segment of the population.
Morsi supporters have touted their movement as a defense of democracy against a military coup that removed an elected leader, warning that the army is turning Egypt back to dictatorship.
At the same time, however, many of its leaders use the rhetoric that appeals mainly to their political base.
Those opposed to Morsi were able to bring out millions in protests that began June 30 and demanded the president’s removal.
Since his fall, those rallies have tapered off, although a crowd was in Tahrir Square on Friday evening for the traditional fast-breaking meal at sunset. The gathering was not intended to be a show of strength by the anti-Morsi camp.
The new administration is moving quickly with its transition, in part to force the Brotherhood to accept it and to show that Egypt is pressing ahead toward democracy.
At the same time, authorities are making allegations aimed at showing Morsi supporters are linked to violence and militancy.
While speaking of reconciliation, the interim leadership has intensified its crackdown on the Brotherhood, starting criminal investigations against Morsi and issuing arrest warrants for other members of the group.
A number of Brotherhood leaders with arrest warrants issued against them are staying at a medical center connected to the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque, Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref told The Associated Press, although he underlined that they are not hiding from arrest.
The Brotherhood’s top leader, Mohammed Badie, is not at the site, Aref said, adding that he did not know where he was.
Morsi has been held in an undisclosed military facility since the coup.
On Friday, the U.S. joined Germany in calling for his release. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States agrees with the German Foreign Ministry, which has urged an “end to all restrictive measures considering Morsi.”
Five other Brotherhood leaders are also in detention on various charges, and 10 others — including Badie —have arrest warrants against them on accusations of inciting violence.
Gehad el-Haddad, the group’s spokesman, said in a message posted on his Twitter account that those in detention are “denied visitation, or delivery of clothes, food. All held in solitary confinement.”
Prosecutors said they will investigate allegations that Morsi and 30 others Brotherhood leaders escaped from prison in 2011 with help from the Palestinian militant group Hamas. That jailbreak occurred amid the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Anger at the military was rife at Friday’s rallies. Posters emblazoned with the word “Traitor” depicted army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi with blood coming from his mouth. Some banners appeared aimed at the foreign media, with English slogans such as, “Legitimacy is a red line” — emphasizing Morsi’s win at the ballot box.
“Did el-Sissi sell his religion cheaply?” one speaker on the Rabaah al-Adawiya stage asked.
“Leave, el-Sissi!” the crowd replied.
“We are designated martyrs,” the speaker added. “We call on el-Sissi and those who participated in this grand treason to repent.”
Speaking to the AP, the Brotherhood spokesman el-Haddad said the rally was growing, a continuation of the 2011 uprising that had been centered at Tahrir Square.
“This is exactly what we did in Tahrir during the revolution. We are doing it here,” he said, adding that the Brotherhood can “keep functioning under a repressive police state.”
He said its support was growing, “and more locations in Cairo will come. We are not talking in weeks — we are talking in months.”
Mostafa Youssef, 27-year-old cleric, described interim President Adly Mansour and his administration as “puppets while the real power is in the hand of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Civilians are just a facade.”
Officials in the sole Islamist party that backed Morsi’s removal, the Salafi Al-Nour, argued that the Brotherhood had to accept reality and said the party was reaching out through mediators to try to convince it.
“I know the Muslim Brotherhood has stamina,” said Amro Mekki, a senior Al-Nour figure. “We can disagree on whether this is a coup or a revolution, but there is a reality on the ground, and we have to deal with it not in a negative way.”
He said the Brotherhood needs to move into an opposition position within the new system.
Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.
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