World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of opponents of President Mohamed Mursi returned to the streets of Egypt on Friday.
Friday's marches took place despite an intervention by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of the 1,000-year-old al-Azhar university and mosque, who hauled in rival political leaders for crisis talks on Thursday and persuaded them to sign a charter disavowing violence. Anti-Mursi politicians said that pact did not require them to call off demonstrations.
"We brought down the Mubarak regime with a peaceful revolution and are determined to realise the same goals in the same way, regardless of the sacrifices or the barbaric oppression," tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog who has become a secularist leader.
In a statement released overnight, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi said despite the Azhar initiative he would not enter talks until bloodshed was halted, a state of emergency lifted and those to blame for the violence brought to justice.
"Our aim ... is to complete the goals of the glorious January revolution: bread, freedom and social justice," he said.
Protests marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak have killed nearly 60 people since Jan. 25, prompting the head of the army to warn this week that the state was on the verge of collapse.
For the Port Said marchers, Friday was also the first anniversary of a soccer stadium riot that killed 70 people last year. Death sentences handed down on Saturday against 21 Port Said people over the riots fueled the past week's violence there, which saw dozens shot dead in clashes with police.
Mursi imposed a curfew and emergency rule in Port Said and two other canal cities on Sunday, a move that only seems to have added to the sense of grievance there.
Protesters also marched in Alexandria, Ismailia and the capital Cairo, where they were expected to descend on the presidential palace.
MONUMENT TO TURMOIL
Tahrir Square, ground zero of last year's revolution against Mubarak, has become a graffitti-scrawled monument to Egypt's perpetual turmoil, strewn with barbed wire and burnt out cars. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the rain as vendors sold flag bracelets, pharaonic statues, sunflower seeds and water.
A man with a microphone shouted to a crowd of a few hundred, calling for Mursi to be put on trial.
"We came here to get rid of Mursi," said furniture dealer Mohammed al-Nourashi, 57. "He's only a president for the Brotherhood." As he spoke, a crowd gathered.
"Why is Obama supporting Mursi and the Brotherhood? Why?" a man shouted, challenging the U.S. president's policy in Egypt.
Osama Mohammed, 24, selling fruit from a battered wooden cart, said he graduated with a degree in commerce in 2007, but hadn't been able to find work - the sort of economic problems that caused the 2011 uprising and have only gotten worse since. He was not on the square for politics, just business.
"I've come every Friday because there's traffic," he said. "If the protests stay peaceful, it's no problem."
It is far from clear that opposition politicians could call off the street demonstrations, even if they wanted to.
"You have groups who clearly just want a confrontation with the state - straightforward anarchy; you've got people who supported the original ideals of the revolution and feel those ideals have been betrayed," said a diplomat. "And then you have elements of the old regime who have it in their interests to foster insecurity and instability. It is an unhealthy alliance."
Many Egyptians are fed up with the violence.
"We are exhausted. This protests thing is a political game whose price the people are paying. I hate them all - liberals and Brotherhood," said Abdel Halim Adel, 60, near the presidential palace.
Hamdy Mohamed, 40, was warily taking his family out for Friday weekend lunch. "We no longer look to Fridays as a fun day off, but we fear it," he said. "That is very frustrating, especially for people like me with kids who need to go out and play. I can't do that on my weekend because of this mess."