Anti-government protesters attacked the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo after dark Sunday, as part of the largest demonstrations that Egypt has seen in two-and-a-half years of turmoil.
The protesters pummeled the main offices of Egypt’s ruling party with rocks and firebombs, sparking clashes. People took to the streets all over the country throughout the day, aiming to show by sheer numbers that they have irrevocably turned against President Mohammed Morsi a year to the day he was inaugurated as Egypt’s first freely elected president.
Egyptians are “fed up with a president they blame for the country’s economic woes and deteriorating security situation, including a spike in murders and sexual assaults,” CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reported.
At least five anti-Morsi protesters were killed Sunday in clashes and shootings in southern Egypt.
Morsi made clear through a spokesman that he will remain in place and his Islamist supporters vowed not to allow protesters to remove one of their own, brought to office in a legitimate vote. Thousands of Islamists massed not far from the presidential palace in support of Morsi, and fears are widespread that the two sides are heading to a violent collision.
All matters being equal it would be a scandal here in America to consider that Morsi was brought to office in a legitimate vote. In one camp are the president and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups. Morsi supporters accuse Mubarak loyalists of being behind the protests, aiming to overturn last year’s election results, just as they argue that remnants of the old regime have sabotaged Morsi’s attempts to deal with the nation’s woes and bring reforms.
“We’re not preparing for violence but we’re ready to defend ourselves,” a Morsi supporter told Ward, a stick or baton in his hand. “This is a piece of wood, not a gun.”
But with the exception of the shootings, the rampant violence many feared did not erupt so far. Instead, the giant anti-Morsi rallies by hundreds of thousands in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and outside the Ittihadiya palace were festive and celebratory, spilling into side streets and across boulevards.
Fireworks went off overhead. Men and women, some with small children on their shoulders beat drums, danced and sang, “By hook or by crook, we will bring Morsi down.” Residents in nearby homes showered water on marchers below — some carrying tents in preparation to camp outside the palace — to cool them in the summer heat, blew whistles, and waved flags in support.
The massive outpouring against Morsi, culminating a year of growing polarization, raises the question of what is next. Protesters vow to stay on the streets until he steps down. The president, in turn, may be hoping protests wane.
The fire at the Brotherhood headquarters, located on a plateau overlooking Cairo, sent smoke pouring in the air, even as youths clashed with Brotherhood supporters at the site. Two on the anti-Morsi side were shot to death, and 60 were wounded, an activist who monitored casualties at the hospital, Ahmed Saeed, said.
Southern Egypt saw deadly attacks on anti-Morsi protests, and five people were killed. Two protesters were shot to death during clashes outside offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, one in Beni Suef, the other in Fayoum. In the city of Assiut, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a protest, killing one person and wounding four others.
The president said that the United States is invested in the democratic evolution of Egypt and very much troubled by this outbreak of violence. He also said the top priority for the U.S. government is to protect all U.S. embassy and consulate facilities in Egypt.