Thousands of Morsi opponents gather in Tahrir Square
Thousands of Morsi opponents gather in Tahrir Square, June 30, 2013. Photo by AFP
Text size

Millions of Egyptians poured onto the streets across the country on Sunday, swelling crowds that opposition leaders hoped would persuade Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to resign.

At least seven people were killed in Egypt and more than 600 wounded on Sunday in clashes between supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, security and medical sources said.

Five of the dead were shot in towns south of Cairo, one each in Beni Suef and Fayoum and three in Assiut. Two more were killed by gunfire during an attack on the national headquarters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood in a suburb of the capital, medical sources said.

Hundreds of people throwing petrol bombs and rocks attacked the building, which caught fire as guards and Brotherhood members inside the building exchanged gunfire with attackers.

State news agency MENA reported that 11 were treated in hospital for birdshot wounds.

Across the country, the Health Ministry said, 613 people were injured as a result of factional fighting in the streets.

In Cairo and Alexandria, more than one million demonstrated.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said he was in contact by telephone with staff at the Brotherhood headquarters, who told him its fortified perimeter had not been penetrated. Several provincial offices of the movement have been attacked in recent days.

Two men, including an American bystander, were killed over the weekend when the Brotherhood's office in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, was attacked on Friday and dozens were wounded. The office was torched and ransacked.

Hundreds of thousands had already taken to the streets of Cairo by early evening on Sunday evening. New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief David Kirkpatrick tweeted in there were "big marches heading to the presidential palace from every neighborhood to demand Morsi exit - really big even for Cairo" By nearly 7 P.M., Reuters put the number at about 200,000.

Morsi and his family were not in the palace at the time of the protests, having been moved already to the El-Quba Palace. They were reportedly moved a second time by late Sunday, as protests continued to intensify.

Waving national flags, tens of thousands gathered over the course of the afternoon on Cairo's Tahrir Square, seat of the 2011 uprising against his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.

"The people want the fall of the regime!" they chanted - this time not against an aging dictator but against their first ever elected leader, who took office only a year ago to the day.

As the working day ended and the heat of the sun eased, more joined them on the otherwise deserted streets of the capital. Many are angry at Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, saying it has hijacked the revolution through a series of electoral victories to monopolize power and push through Islamic law.

Others are simply frustrated by the economic crisis, deepened by political deadlock, over which Morsi has presided.

In other cities, thousands of protesters also gathered. Security sources said three Brotherhood offices were set on fire by demonstrators in towns in the Nile Delta - the latest in over a week of street violence in which hundreds have been hurt and several killed, including an American Jewish student.

Over 10,000 Morsi supporters also congregated in the capital, by a mosque not far from the suburban presidential palace.

Interviewed by a British newspaper, Morsi repeated his determination to ride out what he sees as an undemocratic attack on his electoral legitimacy. But he also offered to revise the new, Islamist-inspired constitution, saying clauses on religious authority, which fueled liberal resentment, were not his choice.

He made a similar offer last week, after the head of the army issued a strong call for politicians to compromise. But the opposition dismissed it as too little too late. They hope Morsi will resign in the face of large numbers on the streets. Some also seem to believe the army might force the president's hand. In Cairo, demonstrators stopped to shake hands and take photographs with soldiers guarding key buildings.

Al Arabiya later reported that Morsi's office called for dialogue with opposition forces. "Dialogue is the only way through which we can reach an understanding ... The presidency is open to a real and serious national dialogue,” presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said in a press interview broadcast by Al Arabiya.

While many Egyptians are angry at Morsi over the economy, many others fear that more turmoil will make life worse.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for dialogue and warned trouble in the biggest Arab nation could unsettle an already turbulent Middle East. Washington has evacuated non-essential personnel and reinforced security at its diplomatic missions.

Morsi dismisses demands to resign

In an interview with London's Guardian newspaper on Sunday, Morsi repeated accusations against what he sees as attempts by entrenched interests from the Mubarak era to foil his attempt to govern. But he dismissed the demands that he give up and resign.

If that became the norm, he said, "well, there will be people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down".

Liberal leaders say nearly half the voting population - 22 million people - has signed a petition calling for new elections, although there is no obvious challenger to Morsi.

The opposition, fractious and defeated in a series of ballots last year, hopes that by putting millions on the streets, they can force Morsi to relent and hand over to a technocrat administration that can organize new elections.

"We all feel we're walking on a dead-end road and that the country will collapse," said Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and now liberal party leader in his homeland.

Religious authorities have warned that the unresy could turn into a "civil war", while the army insists it will respect the "will of the people". Islamists interpret that to mean army support for election results. Opponents believe that the army may heed the popular will as expressed on the streets, as it did in early 2011 when the generals decided Mubarak's time was up.

A military source said the army was using its helicopters to monitor the numbers out on the streets. Its estimate on Tahrir by mid-afternoon was 40-50,000, with a few thousands at similar protest sites in other major cities.

It put the number at the Islamists' Cairo camp at 17,000. Having staged shows of force earlier this month, the Brotherhood has not called on its supporters to go out on Sunday.

Among the Islamists in Cairo, Ahmed Hosny, 37, said: "I came here to say, 'We are with you Morsi, with the legitimate order and against the thugs'.

"This is our revolution and no one will take it from us."

At Tahrir Square, banners ranged from "The Revolution Goes On", "Out, Out Like Mubarak" to "Obama Backs Terrorism" - a reference to liberal anger at perceived U.S. support for Morsi's legitimacy and its criticism of protests as bad for the economy.

"I am here to bring down Morsi and the Brotherhood," said Ahmed Ali al-Badri, a feed merchant in a white robe. "Just look at this country. It's gone backwards for 20 years. There's no diesel, gasoline, electricity. Life is just too expensive."

The Egyptian army, half a million strong and financed by Washington since it backed a peace treaty with Israel three decades ago, says it has deployed to protect key installations.

For many Egyptians, though, all the turmoil that has followed the Arab Spring has just made life harder. Standing by his lonely barrow at an eerily quiet downtown Cairo street market, 23-year-old Zeeka was afraid more violence was coming.

"We're not for one side or the other," he said. "What's happening now in Egypt is shameful. There is no work, thugs are everywhere ... I won't go out to any protest.
"It's nothing to do with me. I'm a tomato guy."