Tony G. Gabriel
CAIRO: Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi rallied Friday in Cairo, and both sides fought each other in the second-largest city of Alexandria, where two people were killed — including an American — and 85 were injured while at least five offices of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood were torched, officials said.
The competing camps were trying to show their strength before even bigger nationwide protests planned by the opposition Sunday — the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration — aimed at forcing his removal.
The opposition says it will bring millions into the streets across Egypt, and more violence is feared. Already, six people have been killed in clashes this week, including Friday’s deaths.
The Cairo International Airport was flooded with departing passengers, an exodus that officials said was unprecedented. All flights departing Friday to Europe, the United States and the Gulf were fully booked, they said.
Many of those leaving were families of Egyptian officials and businessmen and those of foreign and Arab League diplomats — as well as many Egyptian Christians, the officials said.
The U.S. State Department warned Americans against all but essential travel to Egypt, citing the uncertain security situation. It also said it would allow some nonessential staff and the families of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to leave until conditions improve.
Opposition protesters in Alexandria broke into the local headquarters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and set fires, throwing papers and furniture out the windows.
For several days, Brotherhood members and opponents of Morsi have battled in cities in the Nile Delta. With Friday’s deaths, at least six have been killed this week.
“We must be alert lest we slide into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opponents,” warned Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, a senior cleric at Al-Azhar, the country’s most eminent Muslim religious institution.
Morsi opponents massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests in 2011 that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The crowd shouted, “Leave, leave” — this time addressing Morsi.
Dozens of protesters also gathered at the gates of the presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, urging him to resign, Egypt’s state news agency reported.