Egypt clerics warn of civil war as rivals clash
Thousands of rival demonstrators stage protests over presidency
Supporters of Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi shout slogans during a protest around the Raba El-Adwyia mosque square in the suburb of Nasr City, Cairo,today. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
Egypt’s leading religious authority warned of “civil war” today and called for calm as political factions clashed ahead of major rallies the opposition hopes can force the Islamist president to resign.
A member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood was shot dead overnight. Dozens of people were wounded in Alexandria, many by shotgun pellets, when opposition marchers clashed with Islamists today, two days before president Mohamed Mursi’s critics hopes millions take to the streets to demand new elections.
“Vigilance is required to ensure we do not slide into civil war,” clerics of the Al-Azhar institute said. In a statement broadly supportive of Dr Mursi, it blamed “criminal gangs” who besieged mosques for street violence which the Brotherhood said has killed five of its supporters in a week.
The movement’s political wing warned of “dire consequences that will pull the country into a violent spiral of anarchy”. It held liberal leaders, including former top UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, personally responsible for inciting violence by hired “thugs” once employed by the ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
Opposition leaders also condemned the violence.
In Alexandria, at least 36 people were wounded, a health ministry source said, many by shotgun pellets when hundreds scuffled outside a local office of the Muslim Brotherhood. A Reuters reporter saw about a dozen men break off from an anti-Mursi march on the seafront to throw rocks at the building’s guards.
They responded. Bricks and bottles flew. Gunshots went off. Ambulances arrived. Military helicopters hovered overhead.
There was no immediate sign of trouble as thousands of Islamists gathered round a Cairo mosque after weekly prayers to show support for Dr Mursi. His opponents hope millions will turn out on Sunday to demand new elections, a year to the day since he was sworn in as Egypt’s first freely chosen leader.
“I came to support the legitimate order,” said Ahmed al-Maghrabi (37) a shopkeeper from the Nile Delta city of Mansoura whose hand bore grazes from street fighting there this week. “I am with the elected president. He needs to see out his term.”
There was a mostly festive atmosphere in the hot sunshine, with vendors selling mango and cakes and banners flying.
Some opposition gatherings were also under way. A handful of protesters watched security men ringing the presidential palace, the focus for Sunday’s Cairo rally. Dr Mursi has moved elsewhere.
A few thousand milled around in the capital’s Tahrir Square, cradle of the revolution. Some waved red cards reading “Out!”, in preparation for the big demonstration against the president.
The army, which heeded mass protests in early 2011 to push aside Mubarak, has warned it will intervene again if there is violence and to defend the “will of the people”. Both sides believe that means the military may support their positions.
The United States, which funds Egypt’s army as it did under Mubarak, has urged compromise and respect for election results. Egypt’s 84 million people, control of the Suez Canal and treaty with Israel all contribute to its global strategic importance.