At least 60 die as 'Friday of Anger' targets Egyptians backing interim government
CAIRO — An Islamist “Friday of Anger” ignited clashes here and across Egypt, leaving 60 dead and more churches, police stations and government buildings burned.
The violence, which shows no sign of abating, had the capital ringing with gunfire and Egyptians on edge. More neighborhoods set up committees to protect homes, shops and residents from attacks.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies organized the day's demonstrations to protest the clearing of their two sit-ins by police and soldiers — a confrontation that left nearly 700 dead on Wednesday.
The Islamists plan a week of protests against the interim government installed by the military, which deposed Mohamed Morsy, a Brotherhood figure, as president.
“This certainly is a battle to determine the near-future of this country,” said Hisham Kassem, a media publisher and longtime human-rights activist.
On state-run television, a banner in English read “Egypt Fighting Terrorism,” while an independent channel posted a similar message: “The word of the people against extremism.”
Twenty-eight Islamist marches tried to converge downtown. As one of those crossed an overpass in the upscale island-neighborhood of Zamalek, marchers held up posters of Morsy or opened Qurans, chanting: “There is no god but Allah, and Sisi is the enemy of Allah” — a reference to Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, the military chief who led Morsy's ouster.
Angry residents and police firing tear gas blocked the large march as it crossed the Nile. Gunfire thundered across the fabled river as the opposing sides pushed back and forth.
Some of that gunfire clearly came from Islamists, and photojournalists and Egyptian state TV filmed armed men among the pro-Morsy marchers.
As bullets zipped into the river, angry neighborhood residents cursed the Brotherhood before scrambling to safety.
“The Brotherhood are terrorists,” said one man trying to fish from the riverbank. Another accused them of “trying to destroy the country.”
Security forces said 52 civilians and eight policemen were killed in running street battles.
Egyptian officials tried to counter international criticism of the violence by directing foreign journalists to Internet videos of church burnings, Islamists using weapons or raising the black flag of al-Qaida, and other jihadi groups protesting downtown.
One video showed an armed Morsy supporter near the Four Seasons Hotel in Garden City, just blocks from the U.S. Embassy.
For a second day, the embassy urged Americans to leave Egypt.
The state media agency, MENA, said more than five cars “driven by masked men have reached Ramses Square to distribute firearms.”
In an Internet posting in English, the Brotherhood condemned attacks on churches. Yet one chapter of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, posted an Arabic screed against Christians on its Facebook page.
It accused Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros of involvement in Morsy's ouster, adding: “Burning houses of worship is a crime. And for the (Christian) Church to declare a war against Islam and Muslims is a crime. For every action there is a reaction.”
Some Muslims and Christians joined to protect churches, said Ishak Ibrahim, a religious-freedom researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. But he reported more than five Christians had been killed in recent attacks on provincial churches.
In Suez and other regions, the military halted protests. In parts of Upper Egypt, however, large rallies occurred.
At dusk, an older man sat on a chair in Cairo's Zamalek section, a shotgun across his lap, as gunfire echoed across the capital. By nightfall, with a military curfew in effect, the normally loud and crowded streets fell eerily quiet and deserted.
But a military helicopter thumped overhead, as flames burst from the windows of a large downtown building set ablaze during the day.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.