x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Morsi supporters out in force amid calls to halt Brotherhood arrests

United States, Germany and the United Nations raise say detentions go against the "inclusiveness" promised by Egypt's new rulers.

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi protest near the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque in Cairo on Friday. Mohammed Saber / EPA
Supporters of Mohammed Morsi protest near the Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque in Cairo on Friday. Mohammed Saber / EPA

CAIRO // Tens of thousands of Mohammed Morsi's supporters demonstrated against military rule yesterday as international pressure rose for Egypt to stop arresting Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Protesters filled the square in Cairo near Rabaa Al Adaweya mosque, the focal point of demonstrations supporting the removed president over the past two weeks, where they heard fiery speeches and sermons.

Safwat Hegazy, a controversial preacher accused of inciting violence against the military, vowed protesters would stay in the streets until Mr Morsi was reinstated.

Mr Hegazy said supporters would die as martyrs if necessary and the army would give in to the demands "whether they want to or not", the state-run Al Ahram paper reported.

Opponents of Mr Morsi remained camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The supporters' calls for continued resistance came as the US, UN and Germany warned the arrests of the Brotherhood leaders was against the spirit of democratic politics.

Officials from the group have been rounded up by the police and military over the past two weeks.

Since he was removed, Mr Morsi and several top aides have been held by the military for "their own protection", said military spokesman Col Ahmed Ali.

Mr Morsi has not been charged with any crime but prosecutors seemed to be fast-tracking an investigation into a prison break during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Morsi was one of the Islamist prisoners freed by gunmen who laid siege to a prison in Wadi Natroun.

The White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday urged Egypt's interim government to stop arbitrary arrests of Brotherhood members.

"You're working against yourself if your effort is to be inclusive," Mr Carney said.

A US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the arrests contradicted promises made by the Egyptian military and interim government that it would include people from across the political spectrum in the transition.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, told Egypt's foreign minister "that there is no place for retribution or for the exclusion of any major party or community in Egypt".

And a spokesman for Germany's foreign minister yesterday called for Mr Morsi's release.

"We call for an end to the restrictions on Mr Morsi's movements," he said.

The interim government of Adly Mansour, the former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court who was appointed president after the popular removal of Mr Morsi, has pledged not to exclude anyone from Egypt's new "roadmap for the future".

Mr Mansour has invited Brotherhood members to a national reconciliation initiative, but they have refused.

They became even more adamant for Mr Morsi's return after more than 50 people were killed by army and police officers in a dawn battle last Monday.

Pro-Morsi protesters alleged they were fired on without provocation during fajr prayer. The army has forcefully rejected those claims, saying troops resorted to deadly force after protesters attacked a barracks with live ammunition.

On Thursday, Col Ali said the death toll was lower than the ministry of health had reported and accused pro-Morsi groups of waging "psychological warfare" against the military.

Mr Mansour has ordered an independent investigation into the incident.

His government faces stark political challenges in coming weeks, but also a precarious economic situation that threatens to renew anger in the streets.

Egypt was propped up by pledges of aid worth US$12 billion (Dh44bn) from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but that will only serve as a stopgap to prevent the economic situation from worsening.

There was huge popular anger against Mr Morsi for his attempts to monopolise power and exclude liberals from decision-making, but a unifying complaint from across religious and political divides was his clumsy handing of the economy.

Under his watch, unemployment rose and food became more expensive, despite his campaign promises to bring about an Egyptian "renaissance".

Early indications show Mr Mansour is focusing the new government's efforts on improving daily life for Egyptians.

He appointed a former minister of finance, Hazem El Beblawi, as his prime minister. Mr El Beblawi yesterday announced he had nominated Ziad Bahaa Eldin, a former financial regulator and lawyer from the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party, as his deputy.


* With Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse