Nearly 50 people died in weekend clashes between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military, as media outlets on Sunday hailed rallies urging the army chief to run for the presidency.
Three years after Egyptians rose up to demand the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, thousands of demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Saturday chanted slogans backing another military man, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as police clashed with Islamists and activists elsewhere.
The health ministry said 49 people were killed when security forces moved to disperse protests across the country by supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising.
The police arrested 1,079 “rioters,” said the interior ministry.
Morsi was ousted by the military in July following mass protests calling on him to step down.
Since then, his supporters have been staging near-daily protests calling for his reinstatement, despite a crackdown that has killed more than 1,000 people and imprisoned thousands.
Widening their crackdown, authorities have also targeted secular activists, detaining some figures of the 2011 uprising for organising or taking part in unlicensed protests, after a disputed law adopted in November banned all but police-sanctioned rallies.
And in a drastic escalation, they also blacklisted Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement as a terrorist group in December after a suicide bombing killed 15 people in a police headquarters north of Cairo.
The attack was condemned by the Brotherhood and claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda-inspired militant group based in the restive Sinai Peninsula that has claimed most of the major attacks targeting security forces in the country.
Militant attacks have killed scores of Egyptian soldiers and policemen since Morsi’s ouster, especially in the Sinai.
On Sunday, armed assailants opened fire on a military bus in the North Sinai, killing four soldiers near a military checkpoint that was targeted by a rocket in the restive region.
Security stepped up
Five soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in the North Sinai on Saturday, but it was not immediately clear how the aircraft came down.
The army has poured troops in the mountainous and underdeveloped peninsula, which borders the Palestinian Gaza strip and Israel, to combat the growing militancy.
Security was beefed up across Cairo on Sunday.
Roads leading to police stations were sealed off, two days after four bombs exploded in the capital, including a massive blast outside police headquarters. The attacks, which were claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, killed six people.
Private and state-run media have hailed “the fight against terrorism” led by the security forces, often accusing the Brotherhood and its supporters of holding violent protests.
On Sunday, they welcomed demonstrations organised a day earlier in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square in support of the military-installed authorities, seeing in them “the people’s challenge to terrorism”.
On Saturday, state-run and private television broadcast footage of the gathering in Tahrir, epicentre of the 2011 uprising.
Thousands showed up to call on army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general behind Morsi’s ouster, to run for the presidency. The turnout was lower than the June 30 mass protests demanding Morsi step down.
Sisi has previously indicated he could run for the presidency if there is enough “popular demand”.
Adly Mansour, the military-installed interim president, is to give “an important speech to the nation” on Sunday, his office said.
It comes after 98.1 percent of voters who turned out for a two-day referendum last week approved a new constitution that paves the way for presidential and parliamentary elections.
The two polls are part of a transitional roadmap decided soon after Morsi’s ouster whose stated objective is to lead the country to democratic rule.
Renewed violence could erupt as Morsi supporters have called for new protests on Sunday afternoon, and during the coming days, to mark the 18 days of the 2011 popular uprising.