CAIRO: Sporadic clashes erupted Friday between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s ousted president during nationwide protests as the military battled Al-Qaeda-inspired groups in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
The street rallies came a day after Egypt’s military-backed interim government extended a nationwide state of emergency order another two months citing ongoing security concerns.
Officials said they feared other potential terrorist attacks after a failed assassination attempt targeting Egypt’s interior minister and suicide attacks at military building and checkpoint in the Sinai that killed six.
Unrest in Egypt spiked after the popularly backed July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammad Morsi. The military-backed government responded by targeting the members of the Muslim Brotherhood for arrest and detention.
Other Brotherhood members, like Essam al-Erian, remain on the run.
“We will not give up our rights,” Erian said while urging more protests in a video aired on Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, one of the Qatari-based network’s affiliates. “We will not surrender to an oppressive power that only speaks the language of the bullets.”
Erian is wanted on charges of inciting violence and murder.
The security crackdown has impacted the group’s ability to mobilize in the streets to protest Morsi’s ouster and the military. But Friday, demonstrations appeared to be larger than usual. Several descended into violence.
In the coastal city of Alexandria, hundreds of Brotherhood protesters and others marched after Friday prayers from a main mosque to a major thoroughfare where they confronted a protest by pro-military protesters.
State television showed footage of anti-Morsi protesters tearing down Morsi posters and chasing Brotherhood supporters through the streets.
Authorities said the two sides hurled stones at each other as gunshots could be heard. Security forces broke up the melee by firing tear gas and arresting a number of protesters, officials said.
In the industrial city of Mahallah, officials said riot police fired tear gas to disperse another Islamist demonstration near a police station.
Several television crews also came under attack by Morsi supporters. Both Al-Hayat TV and state-run networks said protesters reportedly stolen their live transmission equipment.
The Brotherhood-led coalition earlier announced a blacklist of journalists and media personalities, accused by the group of inciting public against the Islamists.
Across Egypt, crowds of Morsi supporters raised yellow signs depicting the four-finger hand symbolizing the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, the site of the main encampment raided by security forces on Aug. 14 that sparked violence that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
Some demonstrators carried pictures of the slain protesters while chanting: “It is a military coup.”
“After all the massacres and after seeing people die in front of my eyes, you have to take to the streets,” said Haitham Mohammad, 28, who joined a protest in eastern Cairo’s Nasr City. Mohammad said he lost three of his friends in the dismantling of the Rabaa protest camp.
Some Cairo residents watching the protests blamed demonstrators for Egypt’s economic downturn and the security woes plaguing the country.
“The state should respond strongly against those protests because they are slowing down economy,” said Ali Abdul-Karim, a resident in Giza’s Dokki neighborhood. “If I were a state official, I would just kill them all.”
Meanwhile in the Sinai, helicopter gunships targeted suspected Islamist militant hideouts in a number of villages south of the town of Sheikh Zuweyid and farmlands near the city of Al-Arish at sunrise, a military official said. Sheikh Hasan Khalaf, who lives in a village some 5 kilometers from the targeted areas, said that he saw smoke billowing in the sky after hearing loud explosions starting from 5 a.m.
Earlier, tribesmen expressed anger over two elders being accidentally shot and the military demolishing homes in middle of the fighting.
“Friday’s attack is part of a new offensive launched last week by the Egyptian military in the Sinai. The offensive comes as more than 70 police officers and soldiers have been killed by militants. A total of 29 militants were killed in a three-day military offensive that began Sept. 7. Officials did not immediately offer casualty figures for Friday’s offensive.
Also, a group called Jund al-Islam claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombings in a town bordering with Gaza Strip that killed six earlier this week. In a statement posted on Islamist websites late Thursday night, Jund al-Islam said the attacks came in retaliation for “Sisi militias of traitors [in] the Egyptian army” who are launching “a direct war against Islam.” The message refers to Egypt’s Defense Minister and military chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.