CAIRO – Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi clashed with Egyptian security forces and fought brutal street battles with Morsi opponents deep into the night Friday, as violence surged after Wednesday’s military coup.
Frustrated, angry civilians divided themselves into warring camps that went after each other with clubs, rocks and gasoline bombs, leaving at least 17 people dead and more than 250 wounded across the nation, according to the Ministry of Health.
Late Friday, throngs of young men who support Morsi fought for more than an hour with anti-Morsi civilians for control of the Sixth of October Bridge over the Nile River in the heart of Cairo.
So chaotic and fast-moving were events that Egyptian television news broadcasters split their screens into three competing scenes of violent unrest.
Near midnight, government troops in armored personnel carriers roared up to protect state media offices from advancing crowds of Morsi supporters. Many of them were drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, which suddenly finds itself shoved out of power and into a more familiar role as an oppressed opposition group.
The day’s turbulent developments reflect an ominously divided country and region. From beyond Egypt, radical websites called for jihad against the nation’s military, even as most Arab governments continued to look on approvingly at the coup. The United States has expressed concern but has generally avoided taking sides.
The president’s ouster divided this country in two, said Ali Mohamed Serag, a bureaucrat at Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity. He said he did not belong to the Brotherhood but was distraught by the military’s action: If people are mad at Obama, they don’t kick him out in a coup.
Islamist activists chanted that they would see their legitimate president restored to power or die as martyrs. They vowed not to leave their encampment around the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque until the democratically elected head of state is restored.
Addressing tens of thousands of supporters outside the mosque Friday evening, Mohammed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, called for an end to the military coup and demanded that the armed forces return Morsi to power.
All of these millions will stay in the fields, in the squares, until we carry our elected president, President Mohammed Morsi, on our shoulders, he told the cheering crowd.
Our peacefulness is stronger than your bullets, stronger than tanks and armored vehicles.
Another speaker called Morsi’s forced removal an assault on the dignity of the people of Egypt. There are Americans and Zionists behind this, said the cleric, Salah Sultan.
A mile away, a tense standoff developed outside the gates of the Republican Guard officers club, where Morsi supporters think the former president is being held under house arrest alongside a dozen close aides.
According to pro-Morsi eyewitnesses, Egyptian security forces opened fire with birdshot and launched tear gas at Morsi supporters demonstrating outside the gates. At least one young man was killed by a shot to the head.
Tahrir Square, meanwhile, began to fill with Egyptians who supported Morsi’s removal and who had heeded calls to defend the renowned protest arena from Morsi’s backers.
Morsi and dozens of his Muslim Brotherhood loyalists were detained Wednesday night and Thursday even as Egypt’s newly named interim president promised to include the Brotherhood in a national unity government.
The interim president, Adly Mansour, a little-known judge, further consolidated his power Friday by dissolving Egypt’s Islamist-dominated upper house of , state television reported.