Egypt steps up pressure on supporters of Morsi

Government may give troops power to arrest civilians

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted president, protested Sunday in Cairo. The death toll from clashes that took place Saturday in Egypt’s capital rose to 83.
MOHAMMED SABER/european pressphoto agency
Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted president, protested Sunday in Cairo. The death toll from clashes that took place Saturday in Egypt’s capital rose to 83.

CAIRO — Egypt’s interim government said Sunday that it may give the military the right to arrest civilians, in what officials said could be a prelude to a major crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and on militants who have attacked security forces.

In a decree that was published in the government’s official gazette Sunday, interim President Adly Mansour gave the prime minister, Hazem el-Belbawi, the authority to allow civilian arrests by the military.

Civilians, sometimes with weapons, frequently join police in Cairo demonstrations. In some cases, they appear to be plainclothes police; in others, residents who back the security forces.


Deadly clashes broke out Sunday during funerals of slain Morsi supporters in the cities of Kafr el-Zayat and Port Said.

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Mohammed Badie, the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, urged his followers to stand fast after more than 80 of them were killed in weekend violence. ‘‘Don’t be sad and don’t despair,’’ he said in a message to followers posted on his website.

The extent of the bloodshed has dashed hopes of reconciliation between the country’s two camps, sharply divided over the July 3 military coup that removed Egypt’s first freely elected president following protests by millions of Egyptians demanding he step down.

Islamists staunchly reject the new leadership and insist the only possible solution to the crisis is to reinstate Morsi. Meanwhile, the interim leadership is pushing ahead with a fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, also pledged to deal decisively with any attempts to destabilize the country, a thinly veiled warning to Morsi supporters occupying two squares in Cairo in a monthlong standoff with security forces.


Ibrahim, who was a member of Morsi’s Cabinet and kept his post in the new interim administration, accused the pro-Morsi side of provoking bloodshed to win sympathy and suggested that authorities could move against the two main pro-Morsi protest camps.

The international community, meanwhile, urged restraint.

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strongly worded statement on Saturday, saying he told Egyptian authorities it is ‘‘essential’’ they respect the right to peaceful protest. He called on all sides to enter a ‘‘meaningful political dialogue’’ to ‘‘help their country take a step back from the brink.’’

The worst bout of violence since Morsi’s ouster took place Saturday when police and armed men in civilian clothes opened fire on his supporters as they sought to expand their sit-in camp.

An official at Cairo’s main morgue put the death toll from the violence at 83 after the facility received 11 more bodies Sunday afternoon.


Authorities conceded that the vast majority of those killed in Cairo were demonstrators.