Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
CAIRO (AP) — Authorities offered “safe passage and protection” Thursday for thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi if they end two large sit-ins in Cairo.
The Interior Ministry’s offer appears to be the first step by Egypt’s new leadership to clear away the Morsi supporters from where they have been camped since shortly before he was toppled by the army July 3.
The move came as an influential ultraconservative cleric warned that using violence to break up the protests will lead to more bloodshed.
The organizers of the sit-ins outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo and a smaller one across the city near Cairo University’s main campus in Giza portray the protests as evidence of the enduring support for Morsi’s once-dominant Muslim Brotherhood.
On Wednesday, Egypt’s military-backed Cabinet ordered the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, to disperse the sit-ins, arguing that they posed a threat to national security and terrorized citizens.
“The Interior Ministry … calls on those in the squares of Rabaah al-Adawiya and Nahda to listen to the sound of reason, side with the national interest and quickly leave,” Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel-Latif said in a televised address.
“Whoever responds to this call will have a safe passage and protection,” he added.
The offer raised the possibility of another round of violence if security forces move on the Morsi supporters. By Thursday afternoon, there were no significant actions against the protesters in either camp. An army helicopter flew low over the eastern Cairo sit-in, where protesters spoke of being ready for martyrdom.
Many wore helmets and carried sticks. At one end of the camp, a second wall of sandbags and bricks was erected against a possible attack.
Egyptian police have a track record of deadly crackdowns on street protests, and Wednesday’s Cabinet move effectively gave security forces the mandate to act as they see fit. At least 130 Morsi supporters have died in such clashes since his ouster.
Al-Jazeera broadcast an emotional appeal by influential cleric Mohammed Hasaan, who warned the military that a bloody confrontation would plunge it into conflict with Egypt’s Islamists.
“The right of life is great, and no one has the right to take it away, except God,” Hasaan said in a 17-minute address. “Don’t let your brothers be slaughtered because they differ with you politically or because they went out to defend what they think is right.”
The military overthrew Morsi in a coup following protests by millions of people demanding that he step down after a year in office as Egypt’s first democratically elected president.
He has been in detention since, along with several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi’s Islamist supporters demand that he be reinstated and refuse to join the military-sponsored political process.
Senior Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian was defiant in the face of the growing pressure, saying on his official Facebook page that “the people will be victorious.”
At the Giza sit-in, Brotherhood protester Saad Mohammed sounded another defiant note, claiming that the number of protesters there grew after the government’s warning.
“We are not afraid,” he said.
Earlier, the Interior Ministry had said it would not clamp down on the protesters but will take gradual measures including warnings, water cannons and tear gas to minimize casualties.
Privately, the Rabaah protesters acknowledge that their sit-in is their last bargaining chip against the military and loyal media that label the encampment as a launching pad for terrorists. Islamic militants also have been stepping up attacks against security forces in lawless areas in the Sinai Peninsula, raising fears that extremists could exploit the anger over Morsi’s removal to spread insurgency.
The Brotherhood has long been one of the most powerful political forces in Egypt, even during its decades in the opposition to autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, himself ousted in a popular uprising in 2011.
But after a series of election wins, including Morsi’s narrow victory last year, the group has fallen from popular favor.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei sought to end the debate whether Morsi was ousted by a coup or a popular uprising.
After talks with Germany’s foreign minister, ElBaradei said Morsi was forced from office because millions demanded it.
“We have moved beyond discussing this issue,” said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)