Morsi’s backers, foes clash in Cairo

Protests take Islamists by surprise

  • An Egyptian army tank securing the perimeter of the presidential palace in Cairo is seen behind barbed wire Dec. 6, 2012, while protesters on the other side chant slogans against President Mohammed Morsi. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured. (Associated Press)An Egyptian army tank securing the perimeter of the presidential palace in Cairo is seen behind barbed wire Dec. 6, 2012, while protesters on the other side chant slogans against President Mohammed Morsi. The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace following fierce street battles that left several people dead and hundreds injured. (Associated Press)
  • An Egyptian Army officer detains a man who was attacked by protesters gathering near the presidential palace in Cairo, while the army deploys to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)An Egyptian Army officer detains a man who was attacked by protesters gathering near the presidential palace in Cairo, while the army deploys to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)
  • Army soldiers install barbed wire Dec. 6, 2012, near the presidential palace in Cairo to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi, as supporters of Morsi pray. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)Army soldiers install barbed wire Dec. 6, 2012, near the presidential palace in Cairo to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi, as supporters of Morsi pray. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)
  • An Egyptian Army tank deploys near the presidential palace to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)An Egyptian Army tank deploys near the presidential palace to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)
  • Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi beat an opponent (center) during clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. The clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi beat an opponent (center) during clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. The clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)
  • An opponent of President Mohammed Morsi (left) argues with Morsi supporters (not pictured) as the Egyptian Army deploys near the presidential palace to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)An opponent of President Mohammed Morsi (left) argues with Morsi supporters (not pictured) as the Egyptian Army deploys near the presidential palace to secure the site of overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Dec. 6, 2012. The Egyptian army has deployed tanks outside the presidential palace in Cairo following clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi that left several people dead and hundreds wounded. (Associated Press)
  • A wounded protester reacts during clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters and opponents of Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the palace in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution. (Associated Press)A wounded protester reacts during clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters and opponents of Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the palace in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution. (Associated Press)
  • A wounded protester is treated after clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters and opponents of Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the palace in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution. (Associated Press)A wounded protester is treated after clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters and opponents of Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the palace in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution. (Associated Press)
  • Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (background) clash with opponents (foreground) outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. The clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace, where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (background) clash with opponents (foreground) outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. The clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace, where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)
  • A supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chants slogans during a demonstration outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. (Associated Press)A supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chants slogans during a demonstration outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. (Associated Press)
  • Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi remove tents of opposition protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters of Morsi and opponents clashed outside the presidential palace, beginning when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi remove tents of opposition protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters of Morsi and opponents clashed outside the presidential palace, beginning when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (Associated Press)
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CAIRO — Clashes between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s Islamist president erupted Wednesday outside his palace, where they attacked one another with clubs and firebombs in violence that pointed up the growing political division in the Arab world’s most populous country.

At least two confirmed deaths were reported during the protests, and more than 120 people were injured, according to the Health Ministry.

Early Wednesday, thousands of President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters and Muslim Brotherhood members approached a few hundred anti-government protesters who had set up a camp outside the palace in the Heliopolis district of Cairo.

“We’re here to cleanse the square,” they chanted. “Long live Morsi!”

Violence broke out after the two sides began attacking each other with sticks and Molotov cocktails before the opposition was forced to retreat. They soon returned, and both sides faced off, with the opposition yelling, “Down with the regime!”

The clashes followed a march Tuesday in which more than 100,000 demonstrators encircled the palace and demanded that Mr. Morsi rescind decrees granting himself almost absolute power and a draft constitution rushed through the Constituent Assembly last week.

Mr. Morsi left the palace through the back entrance when the demonstrators began pushing through the police lines.

Analysts say the show of force by the normally fractured opposition was a deep blow to the legitimacy of the government and shook the Islamists.

“[Tuesday’s march] was the greatest challenge [Morsi] has faced. It took him and the Islamists by surprise,” said Mazen Hassan, a political science lecturer at Cairo University. “It showed him that the liberals do have mobilization force.

“And the fact that the Islamists decided to respond today by also mobilizing people to take over this area means that they are going to fight back.”

Three of Morsi aides have resigned in protest of his handling of the crisis, The Associated Press reported. With two aides who had quit earlier, now five of his panel of 17 advisers have left their jobs since the problems began.

“The current regime is just as oppressive as the last one,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition advocate of reform and democracy, referring to former President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed amid popular protests last year.

“In fact, it is perhaps even worse,” Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told a news conference after he accused the president’s supporters of a “vicious and deliberate” attack on peaceful demonstrators.

The Islamists have pushed “a vicious, deliberate” attack against peaceful demonstrators, and Mr. Morsi is “losing legitimacy,” he added.

Both sides are digging in their heels.

The opposition said it will soon decide whether to mobilize a boycott of a Dec. 15 referendum on the draft constitution or work for a “no” vote.

Egyptian Vice President Mahmud Mekki said Wednesday the vote will take place as scheduled and invited the opposition to submit their concerns in writing. They have refused to do so.

Also on Wednesday, some private broadcasters shut off their programming to protest the draft constitution’s limitations on freedom of speech and press. That followed a strike by almost a dozen newspapers Tuesday.

Both camps said they are planning huge rallies for Friday, prompting concerns about more violence.

“Well, the situation is certainly extremely volatile,” said Mr. Hassan. “Now it’s a battle of who can mobilize more people to protest against the other. No camp wants to back down.”

Speaking Wednesday at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Egypt’s unrest shows the urgent need for dialogue between the two camps, The AP reported.

She said the U.S. wants to see a constitution emerge that protects the rights of all Egyptians — men and women, Christian and Muslim.

The opposition and rights groups have criticized the draft constitution, saying it rolls back the rights of women, religious minorities and others.

• Jabeen Bhatti and Charles McPhedran reported from Berlin. Sarah Lynch in Cairo contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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