Egypt's crisis spirals into deeper bitterness

2012-12-07 20:24
An Egyptian opponent of President Mohammed Morsi shouts slogans during a march to the Presidential palace. (Mahmoud Khaled, AFP)

An Egyptian opponent of President Mohammed Morsi shouts slogans during a march to the Presidential palace. (Mahmoud Khaled, AFP)

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Cairo - Egypt's political crisis spiralled deeper into bitterness and recrimination Friday as thousands of Islamist backers of the president vowed vengeance at a funeral for men killed in bloody clashes earlier this week and large crowds of the president's opponents marched on his palace to increase pressure after he rejected their demands.

The two camps in the country's divide appeared at a deadlock, after President Mohammed Morsi gave a fiery televised speech on Thursday night denouncing his opponents and refusing to call off a referendum on a draft constitution promulgated by his allies, even as he appealed for dialogue.

The opposition rejected talks, saying he must first cancel the referendum and meet other demands.

With Egypt's crisis now in its third week, anger was mounting in the streets, after the two camps clashed Wednesday in heavy battles outside the presidential palace that left at least six dead and more than 700 injured.

Each side is depicting the conflict as an all-out fight for Egypt's future and identity. The opposition accuses Morsi and his Islamist allies of turning increasingly dictatorial to force their agenda on the country, monopolize power and turn Egypt to a religious state. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and other Islamists say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their victories in elections over the past year and stifle popular demands to implement Islamic Shariah law.

The tone was one of a battle cry as thousands of Islamists held funeral prayers Friday at Al-Azhar Mosque — the country's premier Islamic institution — for Morsi supporters killed in Wednesday's clashes. Seeking to rally their side, a series of speakers to the crowd portrayed the opposition as tools of the regime of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak — or as decadent and un-Islamic — and vowed to defend a constitution they say brings Islamic law to Egypt.

"We are the Egyptian people"

"Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal," the crowd chanted in a funeral procession filling streets around the mosque. During the funeral, thousands chanted, "With blood and soul, we redeem Islam," pumping their fists in the air. Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were "murderers."

One hardline cleric speaking to the crowd denounced anti-Morsi protesters as "traitors". Another declared that they will not allow Egypt to become "a den of hash smokers."

"We march on this path in sacrifice for the nation and our martyrs," a leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagy, told the crowd. "We will keep going even if we all become martyrs. We will avenge them or die like them.

"Bread! Freedom! Islamic Law!" the crowd chanted, twisting the revolutionary slogan of "Bread! Freedom! Social Justice!" used by leftists and secular activists in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.

At the same time, thousands of protesters against Morsi streamed in several marches from different parts of Cairo toward his presidential palace in an upscale neighborhood for a third straight day. Many were furious over the president's speech the night before in which he accused "hired thugs" of attacking protesters outside the palace on Wednesday, sparking the clashes. Most witnesses say the clashes began with Morsi supporters attacked a tent camp set up by anti-Morsi protesters.

A series of video clips surfaced the days following the bloody Wednesday, showing badly bruised faces of female activists, a man putting his hand over the mouth of prominent female activist Shahanda Mekalad to try to silence her as she chanted "we are the Egyptian people", and other anti-Morsi protesters stripped naked and beaten up by the Morsi supporters. One protester was pictured with a bloodstained shirt and a bruised face.

Wednesday's battles have only fed into mistrust between Islamists in power and liberal opposition.

- AP

Read more on:    mohammed morsi  |  egypt  |  egypt protests  |  north africa
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