Warring Egyptian factions refuse to bury their differences

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Picture: AP
Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Picture: AP
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EGYPT’S political crisis deepened yesterday as thousands of Islamists who back president Mohammed Morsi vowed to take revenge at a funeral for two men killed in clashes with opposition protesters earlier this week.

Demonstrators marched on the presidential palace in Cairo after Mr Morsi delivered a fiery speech on state television on Thursday night denouncing his critics and refusing to call off a referendum on a draft constitution forced through by his Muslim Brotherhood party.

An offer of talks was rejected by opposition figures, who insisted Mr Morsi must first cancel the referendum on the constitution, and meet other demands.

With Egypt’s crisis now in its third week, anger was mounting in the streets after the two camps clashed Wednesday outside the presidential palace, leaving six people dead and more than 700 injured.

Each side is depicting the conflict as an all-out fight for Egypt’s future. The opposition accuses Mr Morsi and his Islamist allies of turning increasingly dictatorial to force their agenda on the country and monopolise power. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists say the opposition is trying to overturn their victories at the ballot box.

At Al-Azhar Mosque yesterday at the funeral of the two men killed on Wednesday, speakers claimed the opposition were allies of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak, describing them as decadent or un-Islamic. They vowed to defend the new, Islamic constitution.

“Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal,” the crowd chanted in a funeral procession filling streets around the mosque. During the funeral, thousands chanted, “With blood and soul, we redeem Islam,” while punching the air. Mourners yelled that opposition leaders were “murderers”.

One hardline cleric speaking to the crowd denounced anti-Morsi protesters as “traitors.” At the same time, thousands of protesters against Mr Morsi streamed in several marches from different parts of Cairo toward his presidential palace for a third day running. Many were furious over Mr Morsi’s speech the night before in which he accused “hired thugs” of attacking protesters outside the palace on Wednesday, sparking the clashes. Most witnesses say the clashes began when Mr Morsi’s supporters attacked a tented camp set up by anti-Morsi protesters.

At the barbed-wire barriers outside the palace, protesters chanted, “Leave, leave,” and “the people want the fall of the regime”. Egypt’s military intervened on Thursday for the first time, posting tanks around the palace and laying barbed wire. Mr Morsi attended weekly Friday prayers at the Republican Guards’ mosque near the palace – after he was denounced by worshippers last week at a mosque near his home in a Cairo suburb.

The National Salvation Front, the main opposition umbrella group, blasted Mr Morsi’s speech, saying he was “in denial to facts that millions of people in Egypt and around the world have seen” – that the violence on Wednesday came from “clear and blatant instigation by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president hails”.

In a statement yesterday, the group repeated its rejection of Mr Morsi’s call for dialogue saying he must first meet their demands. The opposition says Mr Morsi must rescind decrees he issued last month giving himself sweeping powers and neutralising the judiciary and also cancel the planned 15 December referendum on the constitution. “After the bloodshed, we will not put our hands in the hands of those who killed new martyrs,” Hamdeen Sabahi, of the National Salvation Front, told protesters in Tahrir Square.

The influential April 6 movementcalled on supporters to gather at mosques in Cairo and Giza and then march on the palace to “red card” Mr Morsi.