CAIRO: Called out by the army, the largest crowds in 2½ years of upheaval filled Egypt’s streets Friday, while ousted President Mohammed Morsi was formally placed under investigation on a host of allegations including murder and conspiracy with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Morsi’s supporters also showed no signs of backing down, though they turned out in far smaller numbers. The demonstrations in Cairo remained mostly peaceful into the night, but in the city of Alexandria seven people were killed and over 100 were injured, officials said.
Late Friday night in Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Morsi supporters — a possible sign of a new intolerance for marches that block city streets.
The announcement by prosecutors of the investigation against Morsi, which is likely to pave the way to a formal indictment and eventually a trial, was the first word on his legal status since he was deposed by the military July 3. Since then, the Islamist leader has been held incommunicado in a secret location.
Both sides tried to show how much public support they enjoy. But the millions who turned out for the pro-army demonstrations overwhelmed the streets in multiple cities in Egypt, including some that rarely have seen any rallies since the 2011 uprising.
Throngs of people turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities, answering a call by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who urged them to give him a mandate to stop “potential terrorism” by supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Portraits of the smiling el-Sissi in sunglasses dominated the crowd in Tahrir and one near the presidential palace across town. Posters with his picture were emblazoned with the words “the love of the people,” and demonstrators wore small photos of him around their necks or carried a picture of his face on an Egyptian one-pound note.
Security was heavy after el-Sissi vowed to protect the rallies from attacks by rivals. Tanks guarded one entrance to Tahrir and police were stationed at other parts.
“The army is here to protect the people. They don’t lie,” said Ezzat Fahmi, 38, who was in the crowd. He said el-Sissi called the rallies “so the entire world can see that the Egyptian people don’t want the Brotherhood anymore.”
El-Sissi’s plea came at a time when the political standoff with Morsi’s supporters showed no sign of resolution. It raised speculation that he may be planning a crackdown on the toppled president’s allies, who have held a sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adawiyah Mosque in Cairo and near daily rallies elsewhere in the capital for three weeks.
The rallies have often turned violent, with more than 180 people killed this month. The Morsi supporters and opponents blame each other for the bloodshed, and people in both camps have been seen carrying weapons.