Egypt's Islamists, liberals clash; Morsy seems headed for fight with judiciary

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:05 a.m.

CAIRO – Thousands of Egyptian liberals and Islamists clashed for hours here on Friday, the worst unrest since the Muslim Brotherhood won control of parliament in January and the presidency in June.

The violence erupted as President Mohamed Morsy seemed to be headed for a fight with the country's judiciary.

The events underscore how polarized the world's most populous Arab nation has grown since the February 2011 ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

More than 100 were injured in street fighting that spilled out of Tahrir Square, the center of last year's revolution.

Liberals had called three weeks ago for a “Day of Accountability” to protest Morsy's record so far.

The Brotherhood set the stage for confrontation by ordering a competing demonstration over recent not-guilty verdicts in the infamous “Camel Battle” case — the trial of 24 horse- and camel-riding thugs who killed 12 Tahrir Square protesters in 2011.

Islamists destroyed a podium used by liberal speakers as liberals chanted against the Brotherhood. Clashes continued into the night, with two buses set ablaze near the Egyptian Museum.

Adel Hassouna, 47, an Egypt Air flight attendant, stood watching. He said he came “to press the president to fulfill his promises on the constitution and justice.”

“We want the constitution to represent all the people,” Hassouna said, adding that the Brotherhood-dominated panel writing the document is “not representative.”

Said fellow flight attendant Mahmoud Hameida, 35: “Egypt is not only an Islamic country – it should be for everyone. The Muslim Brotherhood is not Egypt.”

The Islamists' presence confused Hameida. “They are the ruling party. Why are they here?” he asked. Then, shaking his head as stones and firebombs flew, he added: “No one will win today.”

Islamist officials denied their followers were in the crowd. Yet many protesters wore Brotherhood ball caps, some accompanied by children in T-shirts with Morsy's image.

Bearded men shouting “God is great!” stoned backers of Hamdeen Sabahi, a liberal presidential candidate who narrowly lost to Morsy in May's first-round vote. Sabahi's followers carried posters with a face that was half Mubarak's, half Morsy's, or that pictured Morsy shaking hands with Mohammed Tantawi, former head of the hated military council.

Adding to the unrest is a growing row between Morsy and the judiciary after he removed the state's general prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, and appointed him as Egypt's ambassador to the Vatican.

A growing popular chorus has demanded Mahmoud's sacking over the “Camel Battle” acquittals.

Mahmoud is defying Morsy, challenging his authority. Egyptian media has quoted him as saying he was threatened by a senior judge allied with the president.

Essam El Erian, a deputy of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice political party, warned him in a Twitter post: “I advise you to accept the new position with dignity. Think thoroughly, your other options are difficult.”

Egyptian judges — some of whom decried Morsy's action as infringing on the judiciary — will meet on Sunday to discuss the dispute.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review'sforeign correspondent. Email her at

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