CAIRO — Violence erupted across Egypt on Friday as tens of thousands took to the streets to deliver an angry backlash against President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, demanding regime change on the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. At least seven people were killed.
Two years to the day after protesters first rose up against the autocratic ex-president, the new phase of Egypt’s upheaval was on display: the struggle between ruling Islamists and their opponents, played out against the backdrop of a worsening economy.
Rallies turned to clashes in multiple cities, with police firing tear gas and protesters throwing stones. At least six people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in Suez, where protesters set ablaze a building that once housed the city’s local government. Another person died in clashes in Ismailia, another Suez Canal city east of Cairo.
At least 480 people were injured nationwide, the Health Ministry said, including five with gunshot wounds in Suez, raising the possibility of a higher death toll.
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Early Saturday, army troops backed by armored vehicles deployed in the area outside the building housing the local government in Suez. The Third Field Army from which the troops were drawn said the deployed force was there to protect state institutions and it was not taking sides.
Friday’s rallies brought out at least 500,000 Morsi opponents, a small proportion of Egypt’s 85 million people, but large enough to show that antipathy toward the president and his Islamist allies is strong in a country fatigued by two years of political turmoil, surging crime and an economy in free fall. Protests — and clashes — took place in at least 12 of Egypt’s 27 provinces, including several Islamist strongholds.
“I will never leave until Morsi leaves,” said protester Sara Mohammed as she was treated for tear-gas inhalation outside the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis district. “What can possibly happen to us? Will we die? That’s fine, because then I will be with God as a martyr.”
The opposition’s immediate goal was a show of strength to force Morsi to amend the country’s new constitution, ratified in a national referendum last month despite objections that it failed to guarantee individual freedoms.
More broadly, the protests display the extent of public anger toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which opponents accuse of acting unilaterally rather than creating a broad-based democracy.
During his six months in office, Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected and civilian president, has faced the worst crises since Mubarak’s ouster. A wave of demonstrations erupted in November and December after a series of presidential decrees that temporarily gave Morsi near absolute powers, placing him above any oversight, including by the judiciary.
Early Saturday, Morsi called on Egyptians to express their views “peacefully and freely,” without violence. Writing on his Twitter account, he offered his condolences to the families of those killed and pledged to bring the culprits to justice.