Supporters of toppled Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi increased the pressure on Egypt’s interim leadership by defiantly flooding into two protest camps on Monday, prompting police to postpone moving against the six-week-old sit-ins because they feared a “massacre.”
Morsi’s Islamist backers have rejected any negotiations with the military-backed government, leaving the most populous Arab nation in an uneasy limbo.
Still, the delay by the security forces gave the Sunni Muslim world’s top religious institution more time to try to ease the political tensions with a new initiative.
Authorities also showed no signs of meeting key demands by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to release top Islamists who have been detained and face criminal investigations.
A judge ordered the deposed president, detained since he was overthrown on July 3, to be held for 15 more days pending investigations of charges that he conspired with Palestinian militants in 2011, a judicial official said.
As news leaked that police were going to cordon off access to the sit-in sites early on Monday, protesters took to the streets by the tens of thousands and many made their way into the protest camps, whose populations include many women and children.
Authorities said they wanted to “avoid bloodshed” and delayed taking any action.
The Anti-Coup Alliance, which works with the Brotherhood, said in a statement that the swift response of the people to come to the main sit-in site at the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque “is a great message to all parties that deserves our utmost respect.”
The group also urged police not to respond to orders to blockade the sit-ins.
“Their rifles and bullets must only target enemies of Egypt,” the group said.
For weeks, the government has been warning protesters to disperse, describing the sit-ins as a security threat.
The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior has depicted the encampments as a public danger, saying that 11 bodies bearing signs of torture were found near both sites.
Amnesty International has also reported that anti-Morsi protesters have been captured, beaten, subjected to electric shocks or stabbed. At least eight bodies have arrived at a morgue in Cairo bearing signs of torture, the human rights group said.
Reporters Without Borders said two journalists were beaten by Morsi supporters while covering a Brotherhood march on Friday in Cairo. The group also criticized “harsh measures” taken by authorities against news media supportive of the Brotherhood, saying 52 journalists had been arrested since Morsi’s removal from office.
Both the protesters and the security forces blame each other for using live ammunition in two major clashes near the Rabaah encampment that have killed at least 130 Morsi supporters.
Further violence threatens not only to delay the transition to a democratically elected leadership, but could also further weaken the economy after more than two years of political instability.
The protests — a main tool of expression after the closure of pro-Brotherhood TV channels — have also stopped traffic and cut off main roads, and are being used by the Morsi camp to increase pressure on the interim leadership.
Meanwhile, nearly two weeks of efforts by the international community to end the standoff and find a peaceful resolution failed. A locally negotiated solution also faces obstacles.
Influential Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagy said he turned down an offer by the head of al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s top religious institution, to negotiate a solution. El-Beltagy said al-Azhar Imam Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb was not an impartial mediator because he backed the coup.
However, public figures close to the Brotherhood have been approached to take part in the al-Azhar talks.
Another Brotherhood figure, Saad Emara, dismissed efforts to negotiate a solution, saying the group does not recognize the “initiatives from the post-coup era.”