CAIRO — Thousands of people, demanding that ousted president Mohammed Morsi be returned to power, marched in several Egyptian cities Friday, as the UN chief human rights official said she had pressed Egypt’s new leaders to provide details about why Morsi was being detained.
At least three people were killed during clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, state news media reported.
Morsi has not been heard from since being deposed by Egypt’s military on July 3, and he has not formally been charged with any crime. The military has refused to divulge details about his detention, except to say that he is being held for the good of the country and for his own safety. Several presidential aides have also been detained.
On Friday, a spokesman for Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said she had asked the Egyptian government to provide “information regarding the legal basis upon which the former president and his presidential team are detained.”
The spokesman said Pillay had also asked about Egypt’s investigation into the killing of Morsi’s Islamist supporters on July 8, when police officers and soldiers fired on protesters, killing more than 50 people who were camped outside the Republican Guard club near Cairo’s airport.
The club, where Morsi’s supporters believed he was being held, had become a focal point of their demonstrations.
Before the protests Friday, which Morsi’s supporters billed as an effort to “break the coup,” the army had warned that protesters who used violence would “endanger their life.” Late in the afternoon, large crowds streamed toward the Republican Guard club where soldiers were standing watch, but there were no confrontations.
The protesters turned and headed toward Rabaa al-Adawiya square, their encampment for the last three weeks, amid signs that the long sit-in, and the now-daily marches, were taking a toll on Morsi’s supporters, as well on as residents of the neighborhood surrounding the encampment. Since the July 8 killings, the army has hemmed the protesters into an increasingly constricted space.
“They are starting to move onto our streets,” said a resident watching the protest go by on Asmaa Zaghloul Street, near the military club. The protesters chanted: “We won’t tire. Freedom is not for nothing.” The resident called them “brainwashed.”
The only way to stop the protesting was by force, he said, but added, “There will be many dead. We don’t want that.” He estimated the protesters would stay around for another month.
As he spoke, fights broke out farther up the street, after a car encroached into the march, apparently striking some protesters. After 15 minutes of anger and scuffles, the driver escaped. “Now he’ll go talk to the media,” a Morsi supporter yelled. “He’ll talk about how the Islamists tried to kill him.”
On Friday evening, thousands of opponents of the former president held their own gathering in Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square, in a contest of crowds that has become routine. As marches snaked through the city, military aircraft flew overhead, commemorating the army’s crossing into Sinai during the 1973 war against Israel. It was the latest of several displays of military power since Morsi was ousted by General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the army commander, who has become something of a local celebrity.
Sissi’s portrait hangs in shops and at least a few government buildings, even as Morsi’s supporters call for him to be removed from his post. The general played a starring role in a video the military released last week that was meant to explain its position in the crisis but that also had the feel of a campaign advertisement.
On Friday, the military fended off rumors that Sissi planned to run for president that started after a spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Ali, raised that possibility during an interview with an English-language paper, Daily News Egypt. Ali answered a question about Sissi’s political future by saying the general was a soldier and “does not aspire to any other role.”
He added, “But assuming that he retired and people suggested that he run for presidency, is not this the democratic process?”
On Friday, the military released a statement devoted to what it said was “inaccurate” speculation and said Sissi had never spoken of seeking the presidency. He was “proud enough to see unprecedented unity between the people and its armed forces,” the statement said.