(Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered for rallies for and against the Egyptian army's overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi in several parts of Egypt Friday as the ousted leader was officially placed under investigation for murder. As of Saturday morning, dozens of people were confirmed dead and hundreds wounded.
Egyptian security forces shot dead dozens of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on Saturday, witnesses said, days after the army chief called for a popular mandate to wipe out "violence and terrorism".
Men in helmets and black police fatigues fired on crowds gathered before dawn on the fringes of a round-the-clock sit-in near a mosque in northeast Cairo, Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood said. "They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad. "The bullet wounds are in the head and chest."
Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told reporters only 21 had died and denied police had opened fire, accusing the Brotherhood of exaggerating for political ends.
Ibrahim said local residents living close to the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque vigil had clashed with protesters in the early hours after they had blocked off a major road bridge. He said that police had used teargas to try to break up the fighting.
The largest crowd of anti-Morsi supporters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir square, heeding the call earlier this week, when army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked that people demonstrate to give the military a mandate for its intervention in removing Morsi and establishing an interim government, the BBC reported.
Only a few miles away from Tahrir square, Morsi supporters also held a demonstration on Friday.
There is speculation by political analysts that the new demonstrations and bloodshed could trigger an aggressive move by Egypt's military against Morsi's primary core of support, the Muslim Brotherhood.
After holding a majority role within the Morsi-led government, the Muslim Brotherhood is now concerned that its movement that emerged after decades of limited influence as the result of Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak, might now be squelched a year later by the military.
Reuters reported that in Egypt's second largest city Alexandria, hundreds of people "fought pitched battles, with birdshot fired and men on rooftops throwing stones at crowds below."
There has been weeks of violence since Morsi was ousted.
"The Brothers stole our revolution," Salah Saleh told Reuters. His declaration echoes what many critics against Morsi are saying, that he refused to share power after taking office and failed to address Egypt's problems.
"They came and sat on the throne and controlled everything."
There is also concern that Islamic extremists in Egypt are intimidating Christians by adopting a strategy to incite sectarian attacks by targeting the country's Coptic population in order to spark divisions based on religious affiliations.
In an interview with Mideast Christian News, Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst and researcher specializing in Islamic groups' affairs for the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said a constitutional declaration issued by Interim President Aldi Mansour, on July 8, created another crisis.
The Church within Egypt, primarily represented by Copts, had objected to Mansour's declaration because the articles proposed bolstered Islamic Shariah law in Egyptian governance. Fattah said the articles reflected the president and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' approval of the Salafist Nour Party's role in political life.
"The Muslim Brotherhood's regime caused a split in Egyptian unity on the basis of religious affiliations," he added.