x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egyptians tell Morsi: quit now

Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to Egypt's streets in the biggest showdown in the country's troubled experience of democracy since Hosni Mubarak's resignation in February 2011. Bradley Hope reports from Cairo

Opponents of Mr Morsi gather outside the presidential palace in Cairo.
Opponents of Mr Morsi gather outside the presidential palace in Cairo.

CAIRO // At least one person died in clashes between supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi yesterday as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets throughout Egypt to demand that the president resign.

The Cairo headquarters of Mr Morsi's ruling Muslim Brotherhood was attacked by scores of protesters firing shotguns and throwing petrol bombs and rocks. The Brotherhood said the building's fortified perimeter had not been penetrated.

Several of the movement's provincial offices have been attacked in recent days, and opposition protesters were marching on the presidential palace last night.

Supporters of Mr Morsi were also on the streets for a third day of rallies in the biggest showdown in the country's troubled experience of democracy since Hosni Mubarak's resignation in February 2011.

Many of the several hundred thousand anti-Morsi protesters said they would not stop their demonstrations until he stepped down.

"I am not here because of laws or elections," Nehad El Ganzoury, 60, a grandmother from the Agouza neighbourhood of Cairo, said in Tahrir Square. "I am here for everyday people who are facing an even worse life than before. No electricity, no water, no bread, nothing. I am not insulting Mohammed Morsi as a man, but as a president he has failed us terribly."

Mr Morsi has insisted he will not resign, and his spokesman said yesterday that dialogue was "the only way through which we can reach an understanding".

"The presidency is open to a real and serious national dialogue," Ehab Fahmy said, and pointed to the protests as proof of freedom of expression.

Anti-Morsi protests also took place in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Mansura, Menuf, Tanta and Mahalla, the canal cities of Suez and Port Said and in the president's hometown of Zagazig.

In the Nile city of Beni Suef, south of Cairo, one person died and more than two dozen were injured. At least nine people have been killed in clashes in the past week, including an American student stabbed while photographing protests in Alexandria, and hundreds injured. Three Muslim Brotherhood offices were torched in the Nile Delta.

Some of Mr Morsi's supporters yesterday carried sticks and makeshift shields that they said would be used to defend the "legitimacy" of the president.

The military sent four low-flying Apache attack helicopters over Tahrir Square in a show of force. Instead of ducking for cover, the crowds cheered, exemplifying a widely held belief that the country's generals would support them against the presidency. The military played a critical role in the 2011 uprising by refusing to crack down on protesters, escalating the pressure on Mubarak to step down.

Protesters in Tahrir Square, where fireworks were fired into the sky at midday above tens of thousands of people waving flags and signs calling on Mr Morsi to "Go out!", expressed no interest in anything other than the president's prompt resignation.

Accountant Abdel Nabi El Nahas, 58, said Mr Morsi "has proved himself a liar and an illegitimate president".

"We toppled one dictator and I won't leave Tahrir until we topple another," he said. "It won't be easy, but no one can hold on to power when the people are this angry."

On the other side of Cairo, near the Rabaa El Adaweya mosque, several thousand of Mr Morsi's supporters prepared for conflict. Young men performed drills and said they would not let anti-government protesters attack the presidential palace.

"I believe that there are some good people among the opposition, but there are bad people among them who go into the protests and stir up trouble," said Abdul Rahman Youssry, 18, a high school pupil from Alexandria who was among the volunteer security force.

Around him, men chanted "strength, determination, faith", while Brotherhood members sprayed mists of water to keep them cool under the beating sun.

Ahmed Gamal, 58, a teacher of the Quran, said the protesters against Mr Morsi had been misled.

"The opposition is against democracy," he said. "They don't want to see their own revolution realised."

His views reflected the Brotherhood's statements in recent weeks, which cast the opposition as trying to overthrow Egypt's first democratically elected president against the wishes of the vast majority.

The size of yesterday's demonstrations, estimated to have reached hundreds of thousands by nightfall, presented a stark rebuttal of those claims.

The protests were staged to coincide with the first anniversary of Mr Morsi's inauguration. A former official in the Muslim Brotherhood and an engineer, he narrowly won the election with 51.7 per cent of the vote thanks in some part to liberals who could not stomach the alternative, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, who was seen as a vote against the 2011 "revolution".

Mr Morsi quickly lost that support after a series of unilateral decisions, including a rushed vote on a constitution that many saw as having been written with only Islamists in mind. He has also clashed with judges, claiming they were acting on behalf of a conspiracy by remnants of the Mubarak regime.

Adding fuel to the fire is the economy, which has deteriorated badly over the past year. The Egyptian pound has lost 15 per cent of its value against the US dollar, making food more costly. Petrol shortages and power cuts have become chronic.

Mr Morsi had campaigned on an Egyptian "renaissance" last year, promising a better quality of life for people who had suffered under 30 years of crony capitalism presided over by Mubarak.

In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper on Saturday, Mr Morsi re-emphasised a pledge he made during a speech last week to allow a committee to review proposed amendments to the constitution.

"There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy," he said. "There can be demonstrations and people expressing their opinions. But what's critical in all this is the adoption and application of the constitution. This is the critical point."

bhope@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Jahd Khalil

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