CAIRO – Hundreds of thousands thronged the streets of Cairo and other cities around the country Sunday and marched on the presidential palace, filling a broad avenue for blocks, in an attempt to force out the Islamist president with the most massive protests Egypt has seen in 2 1/2 years of turmoil.
In a sign of the explosive volatility of the country’s divisions, young protesters mainly from the surrounding neighborhood pelted the main headquarters of President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood with stones and firebombs, and at one point a fire erupted at the gates of the walled villa. During clashes, Brotherhood supporters barricaded inside opened fire on the attackers, and activists said at least five protesters were killed.
At least five more anti-Morsi protesters were killed Sunday in southern Egypt. At least 400 people were injured nationwide, the Health Ministry said.
Fears were widespread that the collisions between the two sides could grow more violent in coming days. Morsi made clear through a spokesman that he would not step down and his Islamist supporters vowed not to allow protesters to remove one of their own, brought to office in a legitimate vote. During the day Sunday, thousands of Islamists massed not far from the presidential palace in support of Morsi, some of them prepared for a fight with makeshift armor and sticks.
The protesters aimed to show by sheer numbers that the country has irrevocably turned against Morsi, a year to the day after he was inaugurated as Egypt’s president. But throughout the day at the main rallying sites, fears of rampant violence did not materialize.
Instead the mood was largely festive as protesters at giant anti-Morsi rallies in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and outside the Ittihadiya palace spilled into side streets and across boulevards, waving flags, blowing whistles and chanting.
Fireworks went off overhead. Men and women, some with small children on their shoulders, beat drums, danced and sang, “By hook or by crook, we will bring Morsi down.” Residents in nearby homes showered water on marchers below to cool them in the summer heat, and blew whistles and waved flags in support.
“Mubarak took only 18 days although he had behind him the security, intelligence and a large sector of Egyptians,” said Amr Tawfeeq, marching toward Ittihadiya with a Christian friend. Morsi “won’t take long. We want him out and we are ready to pay the price.”
The massive outpouring against Morsi raises the question of what is next. Protesters have vowed to stay on the streets until he steps down, and organizers called for widespread labor strikes starting today. The president, in turn, appears to be hoping protests wane.