by Jailan Zayan, AFP
CAIRO (AFP) – Supporters and opponents of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi gathered for rival demonstrations on Friday, raising fears of fresh violence after one activist was killed overnight.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies massed outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr district to demonstrate their backing for Morsi in his rejection of opposition calls to step down just a year into his term of office.
They gathered under the slogan “legitimacy is a red line”, in reference to Morsi’s insistence that he won a free and fair election and has a popular mandate.
Opponents of the president gathered outside Cairo’s Al-Azhar — Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning — for a march to Tahrir Square, the iconic epicenter of the protest movement that ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Hundreds of Morsi opponents have been holding a sit-in in Tahrir since Tuesday.
Their protest was called by the Tamarod movement (Arabic for rebellion) which says it has collected more than 15 million signatures to a petition demanding Morsi’s resignation and a snap election.
The mainly secular opposition charges that the president has reneged on his promise to rule for all Egyptians and has failed to deliver on the uprising’s aspirations for freedom and social justice.
The overnight violence erupted in the eastern part of the Nile Delta, north of the capital, Morsi’s own home province.
Rival demonstrators clashed outside offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, on whose platform the president won last year’s election.
The FJP said on its website that one of its supporters was killed. Thirty people were also wounded, the health ministry said.
Germany warned that Egypt faced a “moment of truth” for its fledgling democracy and urged the Islamist president to implement reforms.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that demonstrators had a right to peaceful assembly but urged both sides to refrain from bloodshed.
Westerwelle “is deeply concerned about the current escalation in political tensions in Egypt,” his spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters.
“This is in his view a key moment of truth for political change in Egypt.”
Morsi himself warned in a televised speech on Wednesday that the growing polarization between his fans and foes threatens to “paralyze” the country.
He pledged to consider constitutional reforms and appealed to the opposition to join talks.
It was his latest attempt to strike up a dialogue between political factions in a country deeply split between his Islamist allies and an opposition of leftists, liberals, Christians and some Muslim groups.
But late on Thursday, the opposition National Salvation Front coalition rejected his offer of talks and renewed its call for a snap election to replace him.
Since taking office a year ago, Morsi has squared off against the judiciary, media, police and even artists.
However, he has admitted to failings and has vowed to correct them.
“I have made many mistakes, there is no question. Mistakes can happen, but they need to be corrected,” he said.
He warned the media against abusing the freedoms they won from the 2011 uprising.
Judges imposed a ban on foreign travel on Thursday on the owner of a private television channel that hosts a popular satire show.
CBC owner Mohammed al-Amin faces charges of tax evasion, and Morsi singled him out by name in Wednesday’s speech.
The army, which oversaw the transition from Mubarak’s autocratic rule but has been on the sidelines since Morsi’s election, warned it would intervene if violence breaks out.
It has brought in reinforcements to key cities, security officials said.
In Cairo, residents were withdrawing cash and stocking up on food, and many companies have said they will close on Sunday, the first day of the working week in Egypt.
Fuel shortages have seen drivers queuing outside petrol stations through the night, bringing parts of the capital to a standstill.