Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets Friday in rival mass rallies for and against the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who state media said was under investigation for charges that included murder.
Five people were killed and more than 50 injured during fighting in the second city of Alexandria. A total of more than 200 were hurt in scattered confrontations nationwide, the health ministry said, with fears of more bloodshed as night fell.
In Cairo, huge crowds heeded a call by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to give him a popular mandate to confront violence unleashed by his July 3 overthrow of Morsi.
Sisi’s call, and news of the investigation, signaled a major stepping-up of the military’s confrontation with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The army’s move against Egypt’s first freely-elected president has caused alarm in the West. The country of 84 million people forms a bridge between the Middle East and North Africa, and receives $1.5 billion a year in mainly military aid from the United States.
Supporters of Morsi staged mass counter-demonstrations to demand his reinstatement, shrugging off fears of an imminent crackdown.
In Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, a Reuters reporter said hundreds of people fought a pitched battle, with birdshot fired and men on rooftops throwing stones at the crowds below.
In Cairo, fireworks lit up the night sky over the central Tahrir Square, packed by army supporters in a jubilant mood.
In a sign of Sisi’s rising political star, many clutched posters of the general in uniform, some depicting him alongside former military officers who became Egyptian presidents, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“The Brothers stole our revolution,” said Salah Saleh, a horse trainer at a central Cairo rally, voicing widespread criticism that Morsi refused to share out power after taking office, and then failed to tackle Egypt’s many problems.
“They came and sat on the throne and controlled everything.”
Clashes have frequently broken out after dark during weeks of turmoil in which close to 200 people have died, many of them Brotherhood supporters.
The army has signaled it intends to get tough with the Islamists, who have staged a monthlong tent vigil in Cairo.