100,000 Morsy backers flex their muscle
CAIRO — More than 100,000 supporters of Egypt's Islamist president staged a show of force Friday ahead of huge protests later this month by the opposition, chanting “Islamic revolution!” and warning of a new and bloody bout of turmoil.
Adding to the combustible mix, comments by the U.S. ambassador that were interpreted as critical of the opposition's planned protests sparked outrage, with one activist telling the diplomat to “shut up and mind your own business.”
The huge gathering was ostensibly called by Islamists to denounce violence, but it took on the appearance of a war rally instead. Participants, many of them bearded and wearing robes or green bandanas, vowed in chants to protect Mohamed Morsy against his opponents. Some who addressed the crowd spoke of smashing opposition protesters on June 30, the anniversary of Morsy's assumption of power.
“We want to stress that we will protect the legitimacy with our blood and souls,” declared Mohammed el-Beltagi, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsy hails.
Most participants were bused in from elsewhere in the Egyptian capital or from far-flung provinces. They waved Egypt's red, white and black flag as well as the green banner of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood and posters of the president. Many raised their fists.
Brotherhood members in red helmets and carrying white plastic sticks manned makeshift checkpoints, searching bags and checking IDs as demonstrators streamed into the venue.
Friday's rally was the latest evidence of the schism that has torn Egypt apart in the two years since autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising. That division has descended the country into deadly street battles.