Hundreds of thousands of protesters marked Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s first anniversary in office Sunday with demonstrations in Cairo and in other cities across the country, demanding that the Islamist leader step down for failing to tackle economic and security problems.
Mr. Morsi’s supporters also took to the streets, raising fears of violent clashes between the two camps. The Associated Press reported that protests in southern Egypt had turned deadly, with at least four killed Sunday in shootings at anti-Morsi rallies.
In Cairo, protesters packed into Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests that resulted in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011.
Outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace, protesters chanted for Mr. Morsi to “leave.”
“You lied to us in the name of religion,” they shouted, comparing Mr. Morsi to Mr. Mubarak, the Associated Press reported.
A short distance away, near the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque, thousands of Morsi supporters gathered under a blazing summer sun.
Protests also were reported in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura, Tanta and Damanhour.
As the demonstrations swelled on the streets, Egyptian activists took to social media.
“Once again, the power of the people is stronger than the people in power,” Wael Ghonim, a former Google Inc. executive who emerged as a significant figure in the anti-Mubarak revolution, wrote on Twitter.
Opposition activists have launched the protests under the banner of “Tamarod,” or “Rebellion.”
The group claims to have collected 22 million signatures from Egyptians on its petition that calls on the president to step down. Egypt has a population of 85 million.
The opposition National Salvation Front, a relatively secular coalition of opposition forces that has endorsed the Tamarod petition, called on protesters to “maintain their peaceful [rallies] in all the squares and streets and villages and hamlets of the country … until the last of this dictatorial regime falls.”
“If the [Muslim Brotherhood] wishes to survive even a bit, Morsi should announce early elections, and a new leadership should take over the [Muslim Brotherhood],” Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian writer and blogger, wrote on Twitter referring to Mr. Morsi’s Islamist political party.
Mr. Morsi, who has three years left in his term, said he would not step down and rejected calls for an early election.
“If we changed someone in office who [was elected] according to constitutional legitimacy — well, there will be people opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later they will ask him to step down,” Mr. Morsi told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in an interview published Sunday.
“There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy. There can be demonstrations and people expressing their opinions. But what’s critical in all this is the adoption and application of the constitution. This is the critical point,” he added.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who was in Tel Aviv on Sunday as part of an intense diplomatic push to restart a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said he was keeping “very close tabs” on developments in Egypt.
Mr. Kerry had discussed developments in Egypt with opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa.
“Every meeting I’ve had, we have also focused on Egypt because Egypt is a great concern to all of us,” he said.
The State Department has warned U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer nonessential travel because of “the continuing possibility of political and social unrest.”
In June 2012, Mr. Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer, was elected the first Islamist head of state of the Arab world’s most-populous nation.
On the eve of those elections, Mr. Morsi projected himself as a moderate. He resigned from his posts in the Muslim Brotherhood, including the chairmanship of its Freedom and Justice Party.
Over the past year, Egyptians have endured a worsening economy, power outages, fuel shortages, rising prices and lawlessness.
Mr. Morsi’s approval ratings have dropped over the past 12 months, from a high of 79 percent in the fall to 32 percent in June, according to the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research.
The Egyptian army was deployed in some of Cairo’s suburbs on Sunday.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, leader of the Egyptian army, has warned that the army will intervene if the civil strife does not abate.
Asked by The Guardian how confident he was that the army would not have to step in, Mr. Morsi replied: “Very.”