CAIRO — In a showdown that could spark a fresh wave of violence, the Egyptian government announced Wednesday that security forces were preparing to disperse sit-ins by thousands of Islamist supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
The decision signals a likely crackdown by the military-backed government against pro-Morsi demonstrators outside Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque and around Cairo University. Clashes in those areas have killed nearly 200 people since Morsi and the political wing of his Muslim Brotherhood movement were overthrown in a coup July 3.
“Based on the tremendous popular support the people have given the state to deal with terrorism and violence … the Cabinet has decided to begin taking all necessary procedures to face those threats,” the government said in a statement.
The government further increased pressure on the Brotherhood on Wednesday by charging prominent figures Khairat Shater, Mohammad Badie and Rashad Bayoumi with the June killings of anti-Morsi protesters outside the group’s headquarters in Cairo.
At least 80 people were killed Saturday in clashes between Morsi supporters and police near Rabaa Al Adawiya. The largely-Islamist crowd, which has been camped at the mosque for more than a month, accused authorities of instigating a massacre by firing live ammunition. The military and anti-Morsi protesters have called the Islamists criminals and terrorists.
The Cabinet said Wednesday the sit-ins endanger national security and disturb “the general peace and safety of citizens.” The government said Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim was ordered to “do all that is necessary about this matter within the boundaries of the rulings of the constitution and the law.”
The state-run Middle East News Agency quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying that the plan to break up the demonstrations is not finalized. The official added, however, that the operation will be “gradual, beginning with issuing a warning, using tear gas and even legitimate self-defense.”
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have vowed to continue their protest until Morsi is reinstated, dismissing the recent shift in power as an illegitimate coup. The group, which was banned from both politics and society under former autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has condemned Egypt’s new rulers for returning to oppressive tactics that seek to push the Brotherhood back to the fringes of political life.
Brotherhood leaders, many of whom had held government posts over the last year, have been facing lawsuits and criminal charges since Morsi’s removal from office. Morsi, who is being held at a secret military location, faces charges of espionage and collaborating with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Hassieb is a special correspondent. Staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times