x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egypt orders Islamist sit-in protests to be cleared

Interim government says 'terrorist acts' and traffic disruption caused by the protesters are a threat to national security, raising fears of renewed round of violence. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

CAIRO // Egypt's cabinet yesterday ordered security forces to clear Islamists from two sit-in protest camps in the capital.

The interim government said "terrorist acts" and traffic disruption caused by the protesters were a threat to national security.

The order raised fears of renewed violence after clashes between police and the protesters on July 8 and last weekend left more than 130 dead.

Thousands of demonstrators have been encamped in Nahda Square by Cairo University and around the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque demanding the restoration of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who was deposed on July 3.

Police have been instructed to end the protests "within the law and the constitution", the information minister Dorreya Sharaf El Din said.

The interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim said there would be gradual steps to clear the protesters. "I hope they resort to reason," he said.

The ministry said it would decide on what action to take based on intelligence on the weapons available to the protesters and whether foreigners were among them.

There would be a warning to leave the area, use of tear gas if protesters don't leave and finally "legitimate self-defence," it said.

Gehad El Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, dismissed as unfounded the ministry's claims that the sit-ins posed a threat to security.

Asked if the Brotherhood would end the protests or send women and children home, he said: "This is an open sit-in. We don't have control over the people. We don't have control over them. It is a free choice."

The crackdown on the Islamist groups, who until a month ago were the dominant political force in Egypt, also continued yesterday as the general prosecutor referred three of the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders to criminal court on charges of inciting the killing of at least eight protesters outside the Cairo headquarters of the Brotherhood on the night of June 30 and early the next day.

The group's fugitive supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat Al Shater and the party's deputy leader Rashed Bayoumi are to be prosecuted. No date has been set for the trial, which will be held before a criminal court.

Mr Al Shater and Mr Bayoumi are being held in Tora prison along with the former president Hosni Mubarak, deposed in a popular uprising two and a half years ago.

At least six other Brotherhood leaders and Islamist allies are also in detantion, including the group's former spiritual leader Mahdi Akef and Saad El Katatni, leader of the Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice party.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Mr Badie and several other Brotherhood leaders, including Mohammed El Beltagy and Essam El Erian.

The Brotherhood, of which Mr Morsi is a member, has led opposition to the new government.

afordham@thenational.ae

* Additionalreporting by the Associated Press