By Ulf Laessing and Mike Collett-White
CAIRO | Tue Jul 16, 2013
(Reuters) – Seven people died and more than 260 were wounded when supporters of Mohamed Mursi clashed with the deposed Egyptian president’s opponents and security forces through the night, with the return of bloodshed overshadowing the naming of a new interim cabinet.
Egyptian authorities arrested 401 people over the fighting overnight, nearly two weeks after the army removed Mursi in response to mass demonstrations against him.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi is forming a government to lead Egypt through a “road map” to restore full civilian rule and to tackle a chaotic economy, although a new minister said aid from Arab states meant Cairo did not need to resume talks on a long-delayed IMF loan.
Mursi’s removal has bitterly divided Egypt, with thousands of his supporters maintaining a vigil in a Cairo square to demand his return, growing to tens of thousands for mass demonstrations every few days.
Two people were killed at a bridge in central Cairo where police and local Mursi opponents clashed with some of his supporters who were blocking a route across the River Nile overnight. Another five were killed in the Cairo district of Giza, said the head of emergency services, Mohamed Sultan.
Crisis in the Arab world’s most populous state, which straddles the Suez Canal and has a strategic peace treaty with Israel, raises alarm for its allies in the region and the West.
Mursi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. He has not been charged with a crime but the authorities say they are investigating him over complaints of inciting violence, spying and wrecking the economy. Scores of Mursi supporters were rounded up after violence last week.
A week of relative calm had suggested peace might be returning, but that was shattered by the street battles into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the bloodiest since more than 50 Mursi supporters were killed a week ago.
“We were crouched on the ground, we were praying. Suddenly there was shouting. We looked up and the police were on the bridge firing tear gas down on us,” said pro-Mursi protester Adel Asman, 42, who was coughing, spitting and pouring Pepsi on his eyes to ease the effect of tear gas.
By sunrise calm had returned. The unrest is more localized than in the days after Mursi was toppled when 92 people died, but Egyptians still worry about the authorities’ ability to restore order.
The violence took place on the last night of a two-day visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the first senior Washington official to arrive in Cairo since the army’s takeover.
Washington, which supports Egypt with $1.5 billion a year mainly for its military, has so far avoided saying whether it regards the military action as a “coup”, language that would require it to halt aid.
The United States was never comfortable with the rise of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood but had defended his legitimacy as Egypt’s first elected leader. Its position has attracted outrage from both sides, which accuse it of meddling in Egypt’s affairs.
“Only Egyptians can determine their future,” Burns told reporters at the U.S. embassy. “I did not come with American solutions. Nor did I come to lecture anyone. We will not try to impose our model on Egypt.”
The Islamist Nour Party and the Tamarud anti-Mursi protest movement both said they turned down invitations to meet Burns.
A senior State Department official denied Burns had been shunned. “I don’t think we’re losing influence at all,” the U.S. official said. “I don’t know what meetings he has, but he has seen a range of people in Cairo in the interim government, in civil society … so it’s hard to say he has been spurned by both sides. I don’t accept that is the case.”
At the bridge in the early hours, young men, their mouths covered to protect them from tear gas, threw stones at police and shouted pro-Mursi and anti-military slogans, as well as “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest).
Military helicopters hovered overhead and police vans were brought in to quell the trouble. When that didn’t work, dozens of riot police moved in. Medics treated men with deep gashes to their eyes and faces nearby.
“It’s the army against the people, these are our soldiers, we have no weapons,” said Alaa el-Din, a 34-year-old computer engineer, clutching a laptop during the melee. “The army is killing our brothers, you are meant to defend me and you are attacking me. The army turned against the Egyptian people.”
The state news agency MENA reported the arrests on Tuesday following the latest trouble. “A security source confirmed that security forces have succeeded in arresting 401 people provoking unrest during the clashes,” MENA said.
MARCHES IN CAIRO AND BEYOND
Tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters had gathered late on Monday at the Rabaa Adawiya mosque in northeastern Cairo, where they have staged a sit-in vigil for the last three weeks vowing to stay until Mursi is reinstated.
Another large crowd rallied outside Cairo University, and there were protests in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Nile city of Assiut and Giza, home of the pyramids on Cairo’s edge.
The army warned demonstrators on Monday that it would respond with “the utmost severity and firmness and force” if they approached military bases.
Many of the top Brotherhood figures have been charged with inciting violence, but have not been arrested and are still at large. The public prosecutors’ office announced new charges against seven Brotherhood and Islamist leaders on Monday.
The fast-paced army-backed “road map” to full civilian rule calls for a new constitution to be hammered out within weeks and put to a referendum, followed by parliamentary elections in about six months and a presidential vote soon after.
The new cabinet is mainly made up of technocrats and liberals, with an emphasis on resurrecting an economy wrecked by two and a half years of turmoil.
That task became easier, at least in the short term, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait – rich Gulf Arab states happy at the downfall of the Brotherhood – promised a total of $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel.
The new planning minister, Ashraf al-Arabi, said on Monday the Arab money would be enough to sustain Egypt through its transition period and it did not need to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund.
Egypt had sought $4.8 billion in IMF aid last year, but months of talks ran aground with the government unable to agree on cuts in unaffordable subsidies for food and fuel. Arabi’s comments could worry investors who want the IMF to prod reform.
“I think it’s inappropriate to be making such a strong statement, given how new he is to the position,” said Angus Blair, president of the Signet Institute economic think tank.
A former ambassador to the United States has been named foreign minister and a U.S.-educated economist is finance minister. A police general was put in charge of the supply ministry, responsible for the huge distribution system for state-subsidized food and fuel.
A musician was named culture minister in a symbolic appointment: she had been head of the Cairo Opera until she was fired by Mursi’s Islamist government two weeks ago, prompting artists and intellectuals to besiege the ministry.
(Additional reporting by Tom Finn, Maggie Fick, Yasmine Saleh, Edmund Blair, Alexander Dziadosz, Shadia Nasralla, Ali Abdelaty, Omar Fahmy, Peter Graff and Mike Collett-White in Cairo, Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia and Lesley Wroughton in Washington.; Writing by Mike Collett-White and Peter Graff; editing by Anna Willard and David Stamp)