CAIRO -- Thousands of Egyptians protested Friday after a week of deadly riots that have shaken President Mohamed Morsi’s grip on the nation and spurred fears that fresh unrest may lead to economic collapse.
[Updated at 12:45 p.m. Feb. 1: The clashes continued late into the night as protesters in Cairo threw firebombs over the walls of the presidential palace, shot off fireworks and tossed Molotov cocktails as police advanced behind volleys of tear gas to push them back.
Morsi condemned the violence and said he would act with “utmost decisiveness” to guard state buildings.]
[Updated at 2:25 p.m. Feb 1: One protester was shot and killed outside the presidential palace, Egyptian media later reported. Video footage taken near the palace also showed security forces stripping a man naked, dragging him on the street, and beating him with sticks near a police van.]
The tenuous hold Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party have on the country was evident as mobs yelled “leave, leave, Morsi” and demonstrators in Port Said, where more than 40 people have died, chanted for their coastal city to secede.
The nationwide protests came a day after rival opposition parties, including the liberal National Salvation Front and ultraconservative Islamist Salafis, gathered to condemn bloodshed that has killed more than 54 people. But the passion and anger against the Islamist-led government remained strong and there appeared no immediate political solution to a crisis that has troubled foreign capitals and investors.
“We brought down the Mubarak regime with a peaceful revolution and are determined to realize the same goals in the same way, regardless of the sacrifices or the barbaric oppression,” tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and an opposition leader.
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie blamed the unrest on unpatriotic parties seeking to overthrow a legitimately elected president. He wrote on his Facebook page that unidentified regional and international forces are aiming to “stir up problems and ignite strife to damage Egypt ... to thwart the democratic transition.”
Morsi’s government has been criticized for authoritarianism designed to enshrine the Brotherhood’s realization of an Islamist state. The government’s handling of the economy, threats to social justice, control of state media and its new constitution have isolated it even from onetime Salafi allies.
“The policies of the president and the Muslim Brotherhood are pushing the country to the brink, but they are adopting the same language of the old regime and accusing their opposition of betrayal,” said an opposition statement. “Instead of responding to the street demands, and working with the rest of the national forces that contributed in the revolution to rescue the nation, they are pointing their arrows to media to stifle freedoms.”
Protesters in Cairo waved banners in the rain and shouted epithets against Morsi in Tahrir Square and in front of the presidential palace. The opposition has called for the weakening of the Brotherhood’s influence, an amended constitution and a unity government. Morsi has rejected a unity government, saying that his administration represents all Egyptians.
The current uprising against Morsi’s seven-month rule began a week ago when Egyptians marked the second-year anniversary of Mubarak’s overthrow. Rioters clashed with police and the atmosphere grew more volatile when 21 soccer fans in Port Said were sentenced to death for killing rival fans in a stadium fight last year.
Port Said and other coastal cities, including Suez and Ismailia, exploded into violence as police stations were attacked and burned and the army was called in to restore order. The cities remain tense and the government has lost much of its control to protesters and armed men.
Marchers wearing black shirts of mourning in Port Said on Friday chanted that they wanted to break away from the country: “The people want the Republic of Port Said.”