CAIRO — Enraged Islamists pushed back against the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi, as tens of thousands of his supporters marched in Cairo on Friday to demand his reinstatement and attacked his opponents. Nighttime clashes raged with stone-throwing, firecrackers and gunfire, and military armored vehicles raced across a Nile River bridge in a counterassault on Morsi’s supporters.
Mayhem nationwide left at least 10 people dead and 210 wounded as Morsi supporters stormed government buildings, vowing to reverse the military’s removal of the country’s first freely elected president. Among the dead were four killed when troops opened fire on a peaceful march by Islamists on the Republican Guard headquarters.
In a dramatic appearance — his first since Morsi’s ouster — the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood defiantly vowed the president would return. “God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace,” Mohammed Badie proclaimed from a stage before a crowd of cheering supporters at a Cairo mosque. “We are his soldiers we defend him with our lives.”
Badie addressed the military, saying it was a matter of honor for it to abide by its pledge of loyalty to the president, in what appeared to be an attempt to pull it away from its leadership that removed Morsi. “Your leader is Morsi … Return to the people of Egypt,” he said. “Your bullets are not to be fired on your sons and your own people.”
After nightfall, moments after Badie’s speech, a large crowed of Islamists surged across 6th October Bridge over the Nile toward Tahrir Square, where a giant crowd of Morsi’s opponents had been massed all day. Battles broke out there at near the neighboring state TV building with gunfire and stone throwing and burning car barricade at an exit ramp.
“They are firing at us, sons of dogs, where is the army,” one Morsi opponent shouted, as another was brought to medics with his jeans soaked in blood from wounds in his legs. Army troops deployed on another Nile bridge leading into Tahrir, sealing it off with barbed wire and armored vehicles.
Later at least seven armored personnel carriers moved across the bridge, chasing away the Morsi supporters. Young civilians jumped onto the roofs of the APCs, shouting insults at the Islamists and chanting, “The people and army are one hand.”
In cities across the country, clashes erupted as Morsi supporters tried to storm local government buildings or military facilities, battling police or Morsi opponents. At least 10 people were killed throughout the day — at least one in the battle on the bridge, and five elsewhere in the country, with at least 210 wounded, Health Ministry official Khaled el-Khatib told The Associated Press.
Amid the clashes, an umbrella group of opponents of Egypt’s ousted president — including the National Salvation Front and youth groups — called on the public to take to the streets immediately “to defend popular legitimacy” against what they called a “malicious plot” by the Brotherhood. They said in a statement the Islamists were trying “to portray a false image” to the world that they have popular backing and to spark foreign intervention.
Islamists vowed to show by their numbers and the turmoil that the military had made a mistake in ousting Morsi on Wednesday night after millions of Egyptians poured into streets around the country for four days this week demanding the Islamist president go in the biggest rallies the country has seen.
“The military got itself in a trap by siding by one side. Now they see the masses in the streets and now they realized that there are two peoples,” Hamada Nassar, a figure from the hard-line former militant group, Gamaa Islamiya, told AP.
The day’s turmoil began in the afternoon when army troops opened fire as hundreds of Morsi supporters marched on the Republican Guard building in Cairo, where Morsi was staying at the time of his ouster before being taken into military custody at an unknown location.
The crowd approached a barbed wire barrier where troops were standing guard around the building. When one person hung a sign of Morsi on the barrier, the troops tore it down and told the crowd to stay back. A protester put up a second sign, and the soldiers opened fire, according to an Associated Press photographer.
One protester was killed, with a gaping, bleeding wound in the back of his head, while others fell bloodied and wounded. Witnesses told to AP Television News at the scene that men in plainclothes fired the lethal shots.
Protesters pelted the line of troops with stones, and the soldiers responded with volleys of tear gas. Many of those injured had the pockmark wounds typical of birdshot. The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, was hit by birdshot in the head as he covered the clashes. “Am fine,” he reported in a tweet.