Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood HQ raided by protestors

Looters push part of a cooking stove out of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo. Picture: Reuters

Looters push part of a cooking stove out of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo. Picture: Reuters

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Protesters have ransacked the Cairo headquarters of President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group in an attack that could spark more violence as demonstrators gear up for a second day of mass rallies.

• Anti-Mohammed Morsi protestors ransack the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood

Anti'Morsi protesters in Cairo waved flags and shouted slogans, hoping to pressure the president into resigning. Picture: AFP/Getty

Anti'Morsi protesters in Cairo waved flags and shouted slogans, hoping to pressure the president into resigning. Picture: AFP/Getty

• Thousands flood the streets across Egypt to protest against party’s alleged hold over country

• Critics view Islamist party’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie and deputy Khairat el-Shater, as real seat of power in Egypt

Protest organisers meanwhile gave Mr Morsi until 5pm tomorrow to step down and called on the police and the military to clearly state their support for what the protest movement called the popular will.

Yesterday saw huge numbers flood the streets nationwide in a massive outpouring of anger and frustration with the president and the Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled Mr Morsi to power. The protests were largely peaceful, although in a sign of the volatility of the country’s divisions, clashes erupted in the evening around the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters between armed Morsi supporters barricaded inside the building and young protesters pelting it with firebombs and rocks.

After clashes raged overnight, protesters managed to breach the compound’s defences and storm the six-storey building, taking furniture, files, rugs, blankets, air conditioning units and portraits of Mr Morsi.

Smoke billowed out of the smashed windows of the fortified villa in the Muqatam district in eastern Cairo. A fire was still raging on one floor hours after the building was stormed. One protester tore down the Muslim Brotherhood sign from the building’s front wall, while another hoisted Egypt’s red, black and white flag out an upper-story window and waved it in the air in triumph.

At least 16 people nationwide have been killed in violence related to the protests, eight of them at the Brotherhood’s headquarters.

Power

Morsi critics view the Brotherhood headquarters as the seat of real power in Egypt, consistently claiming that the Islamist group’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shater, were the ones actually calling the shots in the country, not the president.

The Brotherhood has in recent weeks fortified the building’s walls in anticipation of the massive opposition protests .

Meanwhile anti-Morsi protesters were gearing up for a second day of demonstrations.

Some protesters spent the night in dozens of tents pitched in the capital’s central Tahrir Square and in front of the president’s Ittihadiya Palace. They have vowed to stay there until Mr Morsi resigns. The president’s supporters, meanwhile, continued their sit-in in front of a major mosque in another part of Cairo.

The demonstrators are calling for widespread strikes in an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on the presiden.

Sunday’s protests were the largest seen in Egypt since the removal of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Fears were widespread that the collisions between the two sides could grow more violent in coming days. Mr Morsi made clear that he would not step down and his Islamist supporters vowed not to allow protesters to remove one of their own.

Mr Morsi’s supporters have depicted the planned protest as a plot by Mubarak loyalists. But their claims were undermined by the extent of Sunday’s rallies. In Cairo and a string of cities in the Nile Delta and on the Mediterranean coast, the protests topped even the biggest ones of the 2011’s 18-day uprising, including the day Mubarak quit when giant crowds marched on Ittihadiya.

Concessions

It is unclear now whether the opposition, which for months has demanded Mr Morsi form a national unity government, would now accept any concessions short of his removal. The anticipated deadlock raises the question of whether the army, already deployed on the outskirts of cities, will intervene.

Showdown threat as Morsi protests grow

Waving Egyptian flags and posters of the president crossed out in red, crowds packed central Cairo’s Tahrir square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak, thunderous chants of “erhal!”, or “leave!” ringing out.

At the same time, tens of thousands marched from points around Cairo, heading toward Tahrir and the Ittihadiya presidential palace in another part of the city. The crowds, including women, children and elderly people, hoisted banners in the colours of the Egyptian flag and raised football-style red cards.

With protesters coming from a range of social and economic levels in a festive atmosphere, the crowds resembled those from the 18 days of protests against Mubarak – a resemblance the protesters sought to reinforce, chanting the slogan from that time: “The people want to topple the regime.”

Some carried tents, planning to camp in Tahrir or outside the palace. Residents of nearby buildings sprinkled water down on the marchers to cool them in the punishing heat and waved flags and blew whistles.

Near the presidential palace, thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of support for Mr Morsi outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque. Some backers wore home-made body armour and construction helmets and carried shields and clubs – ­precautions, they said, against possible violence.

Make-or-break

There is a sense among opponents and supporters of Mr Morsi that the protests are make-or-break, raising concerns that the two camps will come to blows, even as each side insists it won’t start violence. Already at least seven people, including an American student, have been killed in clashes the past week.

The demonstrations are the culmination of polarisation and instability that have been building since Mr Morsi’s inauguration last year as Egypt’s first freely elected leader. The past year has seen multiple political crises, bouts of bloody clashes and a steadily worsening economy, with power cuts, fuel shortages, rising prices and persistent lawlessness and crime.

In one camp are the president and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups. They say street demonstrations cannot be allowed to remove a leader who won a legitimate election, and they accuse Mubarak loyalists of being behind the campaign in a bid to return to power. Hard-liners have given the confrontation a sharply religious tone, denouncing Mr Morsi’s opponents as “enemies of God” and infidels.

On the other side is an array of secular and liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims, Christians – and what the opposition says is a broad sector of the general public that has turned against the Islamists. They say the Islamists have tried to monopolise power, infusing government with their supporters, forcing through a constitution they largely wrote and giving religious extremists a free hand, all while failing to manage the country.

The opposition believes that, with sheer numbers in the street, it can pressure Mr Morsi to step down – perhaps with the added weight of the powerful military if it signals that the president should go.

“Today is the Brotherhood’s last day in power,” said Suliman Mohammed, a manager of a seafood company protesting at Tahrir. “Morsi did not accomplish any of the [2011] revolution’s goals.”

Mohammed Abdel-Salam, 21, said he came out because he wanted early presidential elections. “If he is so sure of his popularity why doesn’t he want to organise early elections? If he wins it, we will tell the opposition to shut up.”

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