- - Sunday, July 7, 2013

CAIRO - Thousands of supporters of Egypt’s deposed Islamist president and his Muslim Brotherhood organization protested Sunday in Cairo and a dozen other cities across the fractious North African nation, as the Egyptian military continued its crackdown on Islamist groups.

Violent clashes between Islamists and military-backed groups over the weekend resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people, with more than 1,000 injured.

Islamists pushed back against the military’s ouster Wednesday of President Mohammed Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected leader, calling for supporters to rally until he is reinstated and arrested Muslim Brotherhood leaders are freed.

“We will stay in the streets until Egypt’s legitimate president come back to power,” said Abdel Aziz Mohamed, 37, a pharmacy owner who joined protests in Nahda Square near Cairo University on Sunday. “We will witness an Islamic revolution in the coming days.”

In Washington, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence cited Egypt's military as a stabilizing force, saying it should continue U.S. aid despite its role in deposing a democratically elected government.

“We should continue to support the military, the one stabilizing force that can temper down the political feuding that you’re seeing going on now,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that he would support making an exception to U.S. law that calls for the suspension of U.S. aid in the case of a military coup.

Other lawmakers were cautious about the role the U.S. should play as political unrest unfolds in Egypt.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sens. Bob Corker and Jack Reed said that the U.S. can be a calming influence but that responsibilities are ultimately up to the Egyptian people.

“Our role right now should be one of applying calm, trying to get our partners in the region to do the same thing,” said Mr. Corker, Tennessee Republican.

Mr. Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said that the military must move to be “inclusive,” unlike the ousted Mr. Morsi.

President Obama has stopped short of calling the ouster a coup, which would have implications for the aid that America sends to the North African nation.

“We remain committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, economy opportunity, and dignity,” reads a Saturday statement from the White House. “But the future path of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. We urge all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters, just as we urge all those demonstrating to do so peacefully.”

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, have said the U.S. should cut off aid to Egypt.

Mr. Reed, however, said Sunday that the U.S. must be “very, very careful” about suspending or cutting aid, and Mr. Corker said the aid issue is one that can be set aside for now while more pressing concerns are worked out.

Egypt’s political transition slowed over the weekend, as liberals and secularists in the country’s new leadership tried to compromise with Islamists on naming a new prime minister.

On Saturday, an announcement that opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei was to become prime minister was retracted because of pressure from the Salafist Nour Party, which views Mr. ElBaradei as too secular and elitist.

The Islamists’ defiance to Mr. Morsi’s overthrow has stalled the transition under the military’s “road map” for stability announced Wednesday by Army chief Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The plan calls for a national coalition government, early elections and a committee to amend the constitution.

On Thursday, Adly Mansour, chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in as interim president.

The military’s ouster last week of Mr. Morsi, who had been in office for one year, was followed by protests in which millions of Egyptians took to the streets in anger over his attempts to consolidate power and introduce religious influence into formerly secular matters, as well as the country’s worsening economy. Mr. Morsi remains under military arrest, and has not been seen since Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the military has been rounding up Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including supreme leader Mohammed Badie. Arrests warrants have issued for other Brotherhood and Islamist leaders.

Now, the transitional government is calling for inclusiveness.

“We extend our hand to everyone, everyone is a part of this nation,” a government spokesman said. “The Muslim Brotherhood has plenty of opportunities to run for all elections, including the coming presidential elections or the ones to follow.”

But the Brotherhood and other affiliated groups say they won’t participate in any transitional government.

“The Islamists will control Egypt and will not stay silent anymore,” said Fatima Ali, 52, a teacher protesting in Cairo’s Nahda Square. “The Muslim Brotherhood will not participate in any government” until Mr. Morsi is restored to power.

While thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets over the weekend to defend what they call “popular legitimacy,” and the might of the military is behind them, Islamists are not writing off Mr. Morsi just yet.

“The power right now is in the street, with the people, not any one party,” said Mohamed El Beltagi, a banker and Morsi supporter. “We are waiting to see what happens in the streets.”

David Sherfinski in Washington contributed to this report.

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