A spokesman for Egypt’ s Muslim Brotherhood urged President Mohamed Mursi’ s supporters on Friday to practice “self-restraint” after hundreds gathered in front of a mosque near the presidential palace, warning opponents from attempts to enter the palace by force.
The Brotherhood’ s spokesman called around 2,000 of Mursi’ s supporters gathering in front of Rabaa Al-Adaweya mosque in Cairo not to march to the palace and to avoid confrontation with opponent protesters, who were chanting anti-Mursi slogans only few kilometers away.
Ayman al-Sawwah, a member of Mursi’ s Muslim Brotherhood, told AFP he and his fellow demonstrators “won’ t go to the palace unless they (opposition) try to enter it by force.”
Tens of thousands marched on the presidential palace on Friday after pushing past barbed wire fences installed by the army and calling for Mursi to step down. Thousands also camped out in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Since the Arab Spring uprising that toppled Mubarak, Egypt has been split between Islamists and mostly secular and liberal protesters. Each side depicts the conflict as an all-out fight for Egypt’ s future and identity.
The opposition accuses Mursi and his Islamist allies of turning increasingly dictatorial to force their agenda on the country, monopolize power and turn Egypt to a religious state. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their victories in elections over the past year and stifle popular demands to implement Islamic Shariah law.
The tone was one of a battle cry as thousands of Islamists held funeral prayers at Al-Azhar Mosque – the country’ s premier Islamic institution – for Mursi supporters killed in Wednesday’ s clashes. A series of speakers portrayed the opposition as tools of the Mubarak regime, or as decadent and un-Islamic.
“Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal,” the crowd chanted in a funeral procession filling streets around the mosque. During the funeral, thousands chanted, “With blood and soul, we redeem Islam,” pumping their fists. Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were “murderers.”
One hard-line cleric denounced anti-Mursi protesters as “traitors.” Another said Egypt would not be allowed to become “a den of hash smokers.”
“We march on this path in sacrifice for the nation and our martyrs,” a leading Brotherhood figure, Mohammed el-Beltagy, told the crowd. “We will keep going even if we all become martyrs. We will avenge them or die like them.
“Bread! Freedom! Islamic law!” the crowd chanted, twisting the revolutionary slogan of “Bread! Freedom! Social justice!” used against Mubarak.
At the same time, the anti-Mursi demonstrators streamed in from different parts of Cairo to the presidential palace in an upscale neighborhood for a fourth straight day.
Many were furious over the president’ s speech Thursday night in which he accused “hired thugs” of attacking protesters. Most witnesses said Wednesday’ s clashes began with supporters of the president attacking a tent camp set up by the anti-Mursi crowd.
Video clips emerged showing badly bruised faces of female activists and a man putting his hand over the mouth of one of them, prominent activist Shahanda Mekalad, to try to silence her as she chanted, “We are the Egyptian people.” Other protesters were shown stripped naked and beaten up by Mursi supporters.
The violence has fed into the mistrust between the two sides.
Pressure on Mursi also came from his inner circle after he was hit by a string of resignations by some top aides protesting the violence. Criticism is also growing from journalists, including those working for state-run news organizations, over what they say are attempts by Islamists to control the media. Judges are on strike for two weeks and said they are not going to oversee the vote as stipulated by law, something that would erode the credibility of the process.
Salafis rallied Friday in front of Egypt’ s Media City south of Cairo, protesting coverage by privately owned networks.
Led by lawyer-turned-cleric Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, with his trademark long, gray beard, the Salafis raised black flags and signs reading “hypocritical media,” and brought bedspreads for a prolonged sit-in. Anti-riot police were deployed.
Violence also was reported in cities across Egypt either between members of the Muslim Brotherhood and police on one side and anti-Mursi protesters on the other side in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria and Nile Delta city of Zagazig.
The sides pelted each other with stones outside the headquarters of the Brotherhood office in Nile Delta city of Kom Hamada, in the province of Beheira. In the Delta industrial city of Mahallah, protesters stopped trains and announced a sit in until the cancellation of Mursi’ s decrees and the referendum.
In the southern city of Assiut, hundreds of protesters chanted, “No Brotherhood, no Salafis, Egypt is a civic state.” Mohammed Abdel Ellah, one of the protests’ coordinators, said the secular groups are organizing street campaigns to get the public to vote “no” if a referendum is held.
But Muslim preachers in Assiut mosques called on worshippers to support Mursi. One cleric in the nearby village of Qussiya denounced the opposition as “those with wicked hearts” and “enemies of God’ s rule.”
“The enemies of the president are enemies of God, Shariah and legitimacy” another preacher said, adding that it is prohibited to protest against the ruler.
Expat constitution vote postponed
Egypt postponed early voting on a contentious draft constitution, and aides to President Mursi floated the possibility of canceling the whole referendum in the first signs Friday that the Islamic leader is finally yielding to days of protests and deadly street clashes.
The announcement by the election committee head Ismail Hamdi to delay early voting on the charter came as a surprise, and it was difficult to predict whether it will lead to a breakthrough in the political crisis.
The president’s aides said the move would ease some pressure and would provide room for negotiations with the opposition.