In Cairo, fresh violence breaks out at presidential palace


Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi clash with anti-Morsi protesters outside the Egyptian presidential palace on Dec. 5, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Islamist supporters of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi chased opposition protesters away from the presidential palace, as the vice president said a vote on a controversial charter would go ahead as planned.



Fresh violence broke out outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday, as supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clashed. 

The resignation of three members of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's advisory council were announced amidst the unrest. GlobalPost correspondent Erin Cunningham, reporting from Egypt, named them as Ayman El Sayyad, Seif Abd ElFattah, and Amr El Leithy. "Another advisor, Coptic Christian Samir Morcos, resigned last week," she wrote.

Some sources indicated that at least one protester died in the violence. Several unverified reports said that an activist named Mirna Emad had been killed, while another also said Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Assem had died.

However, the Ministry of Health has so far not confirmed any deaths, GlobalPost's Cunningham reported. The ministry said 211 have been injured, according to Reuters.

Protesters were also reported to have set fire to the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party.

"What's taking place now is surprising for a number of reasons. One, the clashes are taking place outside the presidential palace. Before yesterday, the palace had never been a focal point for protests — but now it's basically the frontline. People are taking their grievances literally to the doorstep of the president," Cunningham wrote.

"Second, it's the most intense violence that has taken place between pro-Morsi and Brotherhood or Islamist supporters and those who oppose Brotherhood rule, whether they are secular, liberal, etc. The violence is driving Egypt along dangerous lines that may be hard to turn away from," she added.

In a statement late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's appealed for calm in order to "give the opportunity for the efforts being made now to begin a national dialogue," Reuters said.

Morsi returned to work Wednesday after fleeing Tuesday in the midst of protests by tens of thousands of citizens. Demonstrators had marched on the presidential palace to voice their anger over Morsi's drive to push through a new constitution after expanding his own powers.

Egypt's vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, told reporters Wednesday that Morsi's controversial constitutional decree remains in place and that a Dec. 15 referendum will proceed as planned. "So far there has been no indication that the presidency is willing to negotiate with the opposition or concede any of the moves Morsi has made in the past couple of weeks. For their part, the opposition has refused to negotiate with Morsi until his constitutional decree is rescinded, the referendum cancelled, and a new constituent assembly more representative of Egypt is formed," Cunningham wrote from Cairo.

While Tuesday saw 100,000 protestors take to the streets around the palace, according to Reuters, only 200 protesters who had camped out overnight remained near the palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis Wednesday morning. Earlier sources reported that traffic was flowing normally and the police had been withdrawn, a sharp contrast from the scene hours earlier.

According to reports from on the ground in Cairo, supporters of Morsi were beating some of the protesters with clubs. NBC News reported that rocks were thrown, and some protesters were left bleeding.

GlobalPost's corresondent reported: "The Brotherhood push-back against the opposition protestors did in fact kick-in today.... Witnesses say Brotherhood supporters attacked those staging a sit-in, beating them. Since then, the Brotherhood has denied its supporters are part of the violence, and have accused the protestors of being pro-Mubarak thugs, paid to 'spread chaos' in Egypt."

She also sent details via Twitter:

At least 35 protestors and 40 police officers were hurt during Tuesday's protests, which occurred in response to a Nov. 22 decree in which Morsi announced an expansion of his powers, putting him above the reach of Egyptian courts. Morsi left the palace as protesters clashed with the police.

Morsi claims that he acted to prevent courts from stopping a newly drafted constitution that will go to a referendum on Dec. 15, after which his decree will expire.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a protest outside the presidential palace on Wednesday in response to what it described as "oppressive abuses" by the opposition. The opposition, in retaliation, has called for leftist demonstrators to return to the palace. 

On Tuesday, GlobalPost's Erin Cunningham said from Cairo that "Morsi has granted himself exceptional powers.... I think one of the fears is that Morsi will use those powers to enact a serious crackdown on the protestors. That could mean sweeping arrests of activists in the coming days, or criminalizing certain types of protest." 

Erin Cunningham controbuted reporting from Cairo.

[View the story "Egypt protestors clash in dueling demonstrations" on Storify]