Thousands of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi marched through Cairo and cities across Egypt on Friday to demand his reinstatement, in the movement’s biggest show of defiance since hundreds of protesters were killed two weeks ago.
Although most marches passed without major incident, a security source said there had been at least six deaths, and police fired tear gas at protesters in Cairo’s Mohandiseen district.
The army-backed government, which has shot dead hundreds of supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood since he was toppled by the military on July 3, had warned that forces posted at key intersections since morning would open fire if protests turned violent.
Having arrested most of the Brotherhood’s leaders, it hoped by now to have suffocated the protests against its decision to force out and crush the movement that ruled Egypt for a year.
However, its prospects of presenting a return to normality looked to have been set back by live television pictures of tear gas and burning tires in Cairo, as well as the sheer number of separate marches that the well-organized Brotherhood managed to stage.
The security source said there had been at least 50 injured throughout Egypt, in addition to the six dead, and more than 20 arrests. The Cabinet issued a statement after the protests saying that anyone who disregarded the curfew would face legal consequences.
The demonstrators appeared mostly to have opted for numerous scattered protests, avoiding Cairo’s bigger squares or the scenes of earlier protests such as the pro-Morsi street camps where security forces shot dead more than 600 people on Aug. 14.
Just after Friday’s prayers, around 500 protesters set off from central Cairo’s Sahib Rumi mosque, chanting: “Wake up, don’t be afraid, the army must leave,” “The Interior Ministry are thugs” and “Egypt is Islamic, not secular.”
By mid-afternoon, thousands were marching in districts across Cairo calling for the return of the elected government, and some remained outside the presidential palace in the capital until just before the 7pm curfew.
Soldiers and police armed with tear gas and semi-automatic rifles manned checkpoints near the protests and blocked roads.
In Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, a total of more than 10,000 protesters took part in several separate demonstrations.
Marches were also held in several cities in the Nile Delta including Tanta, in the three Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, and in the southern city of Assiut.
The Brotherhood’s London press office circulated an e-mail with links to video streams from what it said were protests in 15 districts of Cairo, as well as 32 in other towns and cities.
In the city of Fayoum, the private television channel CBC showed footage of a female Brotherhood supporter in a black head-to-toe veil, leading a march of veiled women and carrying a placard reading: “Where did legitimacy go?”
“This revolutionary wave will not stop,” Brotherhood politician Farid Ismail said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said the numbers of those who had demonstrated despite “intimidation, tear gas, live bullets and detentions” had been hugely underreported.
“This will continue in the coming weeks,” he said.
Egyptian armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the government he backs appears to have won broad public support for their crackdown, which it portrays in the largely state-controlled or pro-government media as a fight against terrorism.