July 3, 2013


[The escalating tensions between Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters and their opponents continued to spur street violence overnight. Egyptian officials said at least 18 people had died in street fighting near an Islamist rally in support of Mr. Morsi near Cairo University. State media reported that the dead included victims s from both sides and that most died of gunshot wounds.]
By David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard and Alan Cowell
Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
Egyptian soldiers guarded the presidential palace on Wednesday
CAIRO — Egypt’s top generals summoned civilian political leaders to an emergency meeting Wednesday just hours before the deadline they have set for President Mohamed Morsi to leave power.
Among those called to the meeting was Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations diplomat protesters demanding Mr. Morsi’s ouster have tapped as one of their negotiators over a new interim government, Reuters reported, citing unnamed official sources.
Mr. ElBaradei has been an outspoken critic of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, the constitution they pushed to a referendum and the previous period of military rule. He has declined to comment in his current position. News agencies reported that top Muslim and Christian religious authorities were invited as well.
The escalating tensions between Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters and their opponents continued to spur street violence overnight. Egyptian officials said at least 18 people had died in street fighting near an Islamist rally in support of Mr. Morsi near Cairo University. State media reported that the dead included victims s from both sides and that most died of gunshot wounds.
Police initially reported that more than 40 Islamists were wounded by birdshot, and Islamist witnesses later said that police had begun shooting at them as well. But after the initial attack, the Islamists began lashing out and beating suspected assailants. Opponents of the Islamists said they too were shooting as the fighting continued through the night.
By morning, the area around Cairo University was filled with burned cars, smoldering piles of garbage, makeshift barricades, and torn textbook pages in English, French and German. Campaign posters from last year’s historic presidential election still hung on the walls.
A few hundred Islamists and a smaller crowd of their opponents clustered in opposing camps, both sides armed with clubs and sticks. A sign hung by Mr. Morsi’s supporters declared: “To the coup supporters, our blood will haunt you and you will pay an expensive price for every spilled drop of our blood.”
Some of the Islamists gathered belong to more conservative factions than the Muslim Brotherhood and said the attempts to oust Mr. Morsi demonstrated that democracy itself could not be trusted. “Isn’t this the democracy they wanted?” asked Mahmoud Taha, 40, a trader. “Didn’t we do what they asked?”
"We don't believe in democracy to begin with; it’s not part of our ideology. But we accepted it and we followed them and then this is what they do,” he said. “They’re protesting against an elected democracy.”
His friend who gave his name as Abu Hamza, 41, said: “This is a conspiracy against religion. They just don’t want an Islamist group to rule.”
All said they were bracing for a return to the repression Islamists endured under the former government of President Hosni Mubarak. “Of course. What else are they going to do?” said Ahmed Sami, 22, a salesman.
Their opponents were vitriolic. “God willing, there will be no Muslim Brother left in the country today,” said Mohamed Saleh, 52, a laborer armed with long shaft of timber labeled “martyr in the making.”
“Let them get exiled or find rocks to hide underneath like they used to do, or go to prisons, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “No such a thing as ‘an Islamist party’ shall exist after today.”
The confrontation on the streets reflected an equally bitter clash at the most senior levels of state and military power.
“We swear to God that we will sacrifice even our blood for Egypt and its people, to defend them against any terrorist, radical or fool,” the armed forces said on a military-affiliated Facebook page early on Wednesday in a posting titled “Final hours.” It was published shortly after Mr. Morsi delivered an angry, impassioned speech pledging to uphold the legitimacy of the elections that brought him to power last year.
The posting quoted Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s top officer, as saying “it was more honorable for us to die than to have the people of Egypt terrorized or threatened.”
Mr. Morsi insisted late Tuesday that he was the legitimate leader of the country, hinted that any effort to remove him by force could plunge the nation into chaos, and seemed to disregard the record numbers of Egyptians who took to the streets demanding he resign.
But before the president’s speech, Egypt’s generals took control of the state’s flagship newspaper, Al Ahram, and used it to describe on Wednesday’s front page their plans to enforce a military ultimatum issued a day earlier: remove Mr. Morsi from office if he failed to satisfy protesters’ demands.
The military’s vow to intervene raised questions about whether Egypt’s revolution would fulfill its promise to build a new democracy at the heart of the Arab world. The defiance of Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood allies raised the specter of the bloody years of the 1990s when fringe Islamist groups used violence in an effort to overthrow the military government.
Under the banner headline “removal or resignation,” Al Ahram reported that the generals would “abolish the controversial Constitution” and form a committee of experts to write a new charter, form an interim presidential council with three members led by the chief of the constitutional court, and put a military leader in charge of the executive branch as an interim prime minister.
Mr. Morsi refused to back down. In an impassioned, if at times rambling, midnight address broadcast on state television, he hinted that his removal would lead only to more violence.
“The people empowered me, the people chose me, through a free and fair election,” he said.
“Legitimacy is the only way to protect our country and prevent bloodshed, to move to a new phase,” Mr. Morsi said. “Legitimacy is the only thing that guarantees for all of us that there will not be any fighting and conflict, that there will not be bloodshed.”
“If the price of protecting legitimacy is my blood, I’m willing to pay it,” he said. “And it would be a cheap price for the sake of protecting this country.”
Mr. Morsi was responding to the threat by the military issued a day earlier that he had 48 hours to meet the protesters’ demands. With the clock still ticking on that deadline — set for about 3 p.m. Wednesday Egyptian time — it still remained possible that the sides could reach some compromise or power-sharing arrangement. But the vehemence of the president’s speech and the official reports of arrests made the possibility seem remote.
Faced with the huge protests against Mr. Morsi and the growing paralysis of Egyptian politics, a more conservative Islamists party, Al Nour, also broke with the Muslim Brotherhood to join the call for early presidential elections. But Al Nour and other ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, have sought to preserve the newly approved Constitution because they cherish its provisions regarding Islamic law, and a military-backed constitutional panel may well revise them.
Brotherhood leaders have sounded increasingly alienated and determined to fight. “Everybody abandoned us, without exception,” Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior Brotherhood leader, declared in a statement posted Tuesday on the Internet. “The police looks like it’s assigned to protect one group of protesters and not the other,” he wrote, “and maybe instead of blaming the thugs they will shortly accuse our supporters of assaulting themselves in addition to their alleged assault on the opposition.”
“They want us to go away to prevent bloodshed,” Ahmed Aref, a Brotherhood spokesman, declared to a crowd of Morsi supporters not long after the president’s speech. “We tried that before in the fifties, and people’s blood was shed in prisons, detention centers and by the hands of dawn visitors for 20 years. Do you want this to happen again?”
“No!” the crowd cheered.
David D. Kirkpatrick and Ben Hubbard reported from Cairo and Alan Cowell from London. Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo.