Thursday, December 6, 2012

Egypt Sees Largest Clash Since Revolution


CAIRO—Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's president clashed Wednesday, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and brawling in Cairo's streets, in the largest violent battle between Islamists and their foes since the country's revolution early last year.

The confrontation started in the evening after Islamist protesters marching in support of President Mohammed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, moved to break up a demonstration by the president's non-Islamist opponents outside the presidential palace in Cairo, where Mr. Morsi has his offices.

Supporters of the rival camps, spurred by public defiance by influential figures on each side, waged back-and-forth battles in side streets outside the palace walls as night fell, shutting down major thoroughfares. Around midnight, police formed a barrier between the camps, with thousands of demonstrators on each side, as gunshots rang out and each side accused the other of firing live rounds.

Those allegations couldn't be confirmed. The Muslim Brotherhood said at least one of its supporters had been killed, while opposition officials said two of their supporters had died. An early Thursday report by state television quoted the Health Ministry as saying five people were killed and 446 people were injured, according to the Associated Press.

The Obama administration exhorted the sides to respect each other and refrain from bloodshed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Brussels, called for a two-way dialogue. She also expressed dismay at the constitutional process, saying Egyptians "deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparent and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other."

Also in Cairo, crowds besieged the Brotherhood headquarters in the al Moqatam neighborhood, ONTV said. Protesters also burned down a Brotherhood headquarters in the Suez Canal town of Ismailiya, Egyptian media reported.

The conflict between Islamists and their opponents has been behind some of the Middle East's bloodiest civil wars. Those who battled in the shadow of Cairo's presidential palace mirrored Egypt's secular-Islamist divide—with a crowd of mixed-gender and mainly young Egyptians, many in tight jeans and hipster haircuts, facing off against men in conservative dress shirts or robes and skullcaps.

Egypt's opposition was galvanized last month when Mr. Morsi issued a decree granting him nearly unrestricted powers and placing him above the judiciary. The decree paved the way for hurried approval of a constitution that was drafted by an Islamist-dominated body that the opposition says was working illegitimately and produced a charter weighted with Islamic law. The government has set a referendum on the draft for Dec. 15.

Anti-Morsi Egyptians took to the streets. On Tuesday, they marched on the presidential palace to denounce Mr. Morsi, the first time in recent memory that protesters made it to the palace walls. On Wednesday, Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Eryan, speaking on al-Jazeera, called on millions of Egyptians to go to the presidential palace to "defend the state and its legitimacy."
And see Telegraph UK, "Hundreds call on President Morsi to step down." And Instapundit, "JUST LIKE OBAMA AND THE “FISCAL CLIFF:” CBS News: Egypt’s president offers nothing to defuse crisis."