Members of the Republican Guard move barbed wire barricades
to close a road leading to the presidential palace in
Cairo, Egypt. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egypt's Republican Guard has restored order around the
presidential palace after fierce clashes killed seven people,
but passions ran high in a contest over the country's future.
President Mohamed Mursi had been due to address the nation,
but a presidential source said the Islamist leader,
criticised by his opponents for his silence in the last few
days, might speak on Friday instead. He did not explain the
Hundreds of Mursi supporters who had camped out near the
palace overnight withdrew before a mid-afternoon deadline set
by the Republican Guard, an elite unit whose duties include
protecting the palace. Scores of opposition protesters
remained, but were kept away by a barbed wire barricade
guarded by tanks.
The military played a big role in removing President Hosni
Mubarak during last year's popular revolt, taking over to
manage a transitional period, but had stayed out of the
Mursi's Islamist partisans fought opposition protesters well
into the early hours during duelling demonstrations over the
president's Nov. 22 decree to expand his powers to help him
push through a mostly Islamist-drafted constitution.
Officials said seven people were killed and 350 wounded in
the violence, for which each side blamed the other. Six of
the dead were Mursi supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood said.
Prosecutors investigating the unrest said Brotherhood members
had detained 49 wounded protesters and were refusing to
release them to the authorities, the state news agency said.
The Brotherhood's spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan denied this,
saying all "thugs" detained by members of the Islamist group
had been handed over to the police or the Republican Guard.
The street clashes reflected a deep political divide in the
most populous Arab nation, where contrasting visions of
Islamists and their liberal rivals have complicated a
struggle to embed democracy after Mubarak's 30 years of
The United States, worried about the stability of an Arab
partner which has a peace deal with Israel and which receives
$1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, has urged dialogue.
The commander of the Republican Guard said deployment of
tanks and troop carriers around the presidential palace was
intended to separate the adversaries, not to repress them.
"The armed forces, and at the forefront of them the
Republican Guard, will not be used as a tool to oppress the
demonstrators," General Mohamed Zaki told the state news
Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the opposition National
Salvation Front, told Reuters more protests were planned, but
not necessarily at the palace. "Our youth are leading us
today and we decided to agree to whatever they want to do,"
Outside Cairo, supporters and opponents of Mursi clashed in
his home town of Zagazig in the Nile Delta, state TV
Egypt plunged into renewed turmoil after Mursi issued his
Nov. 22 decree and an Islamist-dominated assembly hastily
approved a new constitution to go to a referendum on Dec. 15.
Since then six of the president's advisers have resigned.
Essam al-Amir, the director of state television quit on
Thursday, as did a Christian official working at the
The Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, to which Mursi belonged
before he was narrowly elected president in June, appealed
for unity. Divisions among Egyptians "only serve the nation's
enemies", Mohamed Badie said in a statement.
Rival factions used rocks, petrol bombs and guns in the
clashes around the presidential palace.
"We came here to support President Mursi and his decisions.
He is the elected president of Egypt," said demonstrator Emad
Abou Salem, 40. "He has legitimacy and nobody else does."
Opposition protester Ehab Nasser el-Din, 21, his head
bandaged after being hit by a rock the day before, decried
the Muslim Brotherhood's "grip on the country", which he said
would only tighten if the new constitution is passed.
Mursi's opponents accuse him of seeking to create a new
"dictatorship". The president says his actions were necessary
to prevent courts still full of judges appointed by Mubarak
from derailing a constitution vital for Egypt's political
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay urged the Egyptian
authorities to protect peaceful protesters and prosecute
anyone inciting violence, including politicians.
"The current government came to power on the back of similar
protests and so should be particularly sensitive to the need
to protect protesters' rights to freedom of expression and
peaceful assembly," Pillay said in Geneva.
Mursi has shown no sign of buckling under pressure from
protesters, confident that the Islamists, who have dominated
both elections since Mubarak was overthrown, can win the
referendum and the parliamentary election to follow.
Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood's secretary-general, said
holding the plebiscite was the only way out of the crisis,
dismissing the opposition as "remnants of the (Mubarak)
regime, thugs and people working for foreign agendas".
As well as relying on his Brotherhood power base, Mursi may
also tap into a popular yearning for stability and economic
revival after almost two years of political turmoil.
Egypt's pound hit an eight-year low on Thursday, after
previously firming on hopes that a $4.8 billion IMF loan
would stabilise the economy. The stock market fell 4.6
Foreign exchange reserves fell by nearly $450 million to $15
billion in November, indicating that the Central Bank was
still spending heavily to bolster the pound. The reserves
stood at about $36 billion before the anti-Mubarak uprising.