Dec 6, 2012 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits
CAIRO — The Egyptian military’s elite Republican Guard deployed tanks and barbed-wire barricades around the presidential palace to restore order Thursday after violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi rocked his fledgling government.
Thousands of Morsi supporters from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood organization heeded the Guard’s mid-afternoon deadline to withdraw from the area, but scores of opponents — kept at a distance by the barricades — continued to demonstrate across the street from the palace, chanting slogans against the Islamist president.
The overnight clashes, in which Egypt’s divided and angry revolutionaries battled each other with rocks, molotov cocktails, sticks and clubs, left the capital on edge and raised concerns about the stability of the country’s first democratically elected government and its relationship with the military.
The commander of the Republican Guard, Maj. Gen. Mohamed Zaki, said his forces were deployed to separate the demonstrators, not suppress them, the official Middle East News Agency reported.
In Washington, a senior Obama administration official said the military so far appears to be playing a neutral role in the upheaval.
“We have not seen any cracks” in Morsi’s relationship with the military, said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “They’ve been careful to stay out of it.”
The presence of troops and tanks around the presidential palace, the official said, is seen in Washington as an effort to protect the compound and prevail upon demonstrators to stand down. “I wouldn’t make too big a deal of the military being out now,” the official said.
In talks with U.S. officials this week, a high-level Egyptian delegation had indicated that the government was preparing to make a gesture of “outreach” to the opposition, the official said. The delegation’s trip was originally scheduled to discuss plans for a Morsi visit to Washington on Dec. 17. That visit has now been postponed, at the request of the Egyptian government.
The fighting between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and his secular, liberal and non-Islamist opponents stems from a political crisis unleashed Nov. 22, when Morsi issued a decree giving himself near-absolute power in the name of speeding the country’s turbulent democratic transition.
By Thursday afternoon, at least three of Morsi’s advisers had resigned over the decree, and Egypt’s influential al-Azhar University, a seat of moderate Islam, was calling on Morsi to rescind it.
At the presidential palace, soldiers from the elite Guard units — which are tasked with protecting Morsi — set up a barbed-wire perimeter and deployed seven tanks and about 10 smaller armored trucks with guns. Dozens of black-uniformed riot police huddled against the walls of the compound, as some opposition protesters shouted taunts at the soldiers across the barbed-wire coils.