Egypt’s political groups in deadlock as army says it will protect peaceful protests

Hundreds of thousands from both camps protest on city streets

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians yesterday took to the streets of Cairo and other cities and towns to support or oppose the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, as the military moved to contain clashes between rival camps in the cities of Tanta and Mansoura north of the capital.

Military spokesman Ahmad Ali said the army would respond with “legal and decisive means” to any attacks on peaceful protesters, making clear that troops would not stand by as they did last Friday when Mr Morsi’s supporters mounted assaults on opposition rallies where 17 were killed.

Earlier, in Sinai two policemen were shot dead and the pipeline carrying Egyptian natural gas to Jordan was blown up by radical fundamentalists based in the peninsula since the fall of the president on July 3rd. Since then at least 36 people have been killed in clashes and 1,100 have been wounded.

Tahrir Square
As demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising, fighter jets trailing red, white and black smoke, the colours of the Egyptian flag, performed loops over central Cairo, in a bid to ease the tension between secularists and fundamentalists building since Mr Morsi was deposed.

Anti-Morsi activists carried red cards proclaiming, “The Game is Over” and portraits of General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who has aligned the army with the opposition.


In Nasr city, 10km away, the area around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque was packed with protesters demanding Mr Morsi’s return while others staged a sit-in at the presidential guard barracks, where he is said to be held. They expressed anger over the army’s ousting of Mr Morsi and said the military had stolen the “voice of the people” who elected him in June 2012.

In Giza, a short distance from Tahrir Square, a vast crowd filled al-Nahda Square at Cairo University, demanding his release and reinstatement.

On the political front, deadlock persisted. The Brotherhood’s official spokesman Yasser Mehrez said that the movement and its allies will not engage in negotiations until Mr Morsi is back in power.

The hardline Gama'a al-Islamiya urged interim president Adly Mansour to resign in order to end polarisation and halt the violence.

Rebel campaign
The Tamarod (Rebel) campaign, which organised the mass June 30th demonstrations demanding Mr Morsi's removal, has declared that Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei remains the prime ministerial candidate of the Egyptian army and revolutionary forces in spite of opposition from the ultra-conservative Salafi Nour party, the sole fundamentalist member of the opposition alliance. Its presence lends inclusiveness to an otherwise secular collection of forces.

Opposition spokesman Ahmed El Hawary said negotiations are ongoing over a prime ministerial appointment. He insisted that Tamarod and the army agree that the prime minister should be a political figure and the cabinet should consist of technocrats.

The interim government should be as inclusive as possible and national reconciliation should be given priority, Mr El Hawary stated. Muslim Brotherhood members who have not incited or taken part in violence or broken the law should be encouraged to join. "Inclusiveness should not be held hostage by Nour."

Nour argued that the choice of Mr ElBaradei, who opposes the imposition of Muslim canon law – Sharia and of conservative social practices, would widen the rift in an already divided society. Nour's vice-chairman Bassem El-Zaraka said his party would abandon the transition process if Mr ElBaradei is asked to head the cabinet.

Prime minister
State-owned daily Al-Ahram reported that Mr ElBaradei would be nominated as vice-president and Ziad Bahaeddin, a founding member of the Social Democratic Party, would be named prime minister. He said, however, the decision is "neither final nor official".

Nour has welcomed reports that Mr Bahaeddin has been appointed prime minister. “He is one of the liberal figures we greatly respect,” said Mr Zaraka.

The Brotherhood and its allies have rejected Mr ElBaradei’s appointment while some liberals argue he lived and worked abroad for many years and is not popular because he does not have a common touch.

Western governments have, reportedly, put pressure on the army to show restraint in dealing with violence by Brotherhood supporters but, critics argued that this encouraged them to rampage in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria last Friday.

Meanwhile, several senior Brotherhood figures have been arrested and charged with incitement, fundamentalist television channels remain closed, and the Cairo headquarters of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, has been sealed by the police.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times