Egypt: Will the army crack down on demonstrators?

Chaos in Egypt as tens of thousands of opponents to President Morsi stormed the barricades outside of the presidential palace, brushing aside Republican Guards and chanting for Morsi to repeal his edict that places his decrees above judicial review.


In a long-awaited televised speech to the nation on Thursday night, Mr Morsi refused to lift the declaration under which he put his powers beyond the scrutiny of judges and insisted the referendum on a new, Islamist-tinged constitution would not be postponed.

He called for a meeting with the opposition on Saturday, but his failure to offer compromises in advance, and the increasingly militant tone of Brotherhood statements, infuriated the mainly liberal and secular opposition.

"We are against dialogue based on a policy of arm-twisting and imposing a fait accompli," said Mohammed ElBaradei, the former United Nations Atomic Energy chief who is now the opposition's figurehead.

One of his allies in the opposition National Salvation Front, defeated presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, went further, calling on Mr Morsi not only to rescind his declaration but to step down.

His fiery speech in Tahrir Square was met with chants of "The people want the downfall of the regime," the keynote phrase of last year's revolution against President Hosni Mubarak.

Such chants have angered the Muslim Brotherhood, who claim that the opposition is backed by elements of the old regime and is trying to incite a counter-coup against Egypt's first ever democratically elected president.

A number of offices of the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, have been attacked and in some cases burned in the past week. The national headquarters on the outskirts of Cairo was looted on Thursday night after Mr Morsi spoke.

The Brotherhood held a funeral at Al-Azhar mosque for two of those killed in clashes outside the presidential palace on Wednesday evening, when thousands of Brotherhood and opposition supporters fought, throwing stones and firing pellet guns at each other.

The crowd at the mosque and speakers accused the opposition of being murderers, traitors and "hash-smokers", a reference to the drugs and alcohol they allege the opposition on Wednesday were using.

The pro-Morsi crowd at the mosque chanted "Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular, it will not be liberal." - which gives you an idea of where the majority lies in this debate.

So far, the army has allowed protests from both sides to go on without much interference. But the anti-Morsi demonstrators are treading on thin ice when they break through barricades and confront soldiers. If the demonstrations get out of control and some soldiers are killed and injured, it wouldn't be impossible to see the army clear the streets. That would inevitably put them on a collision course with demonstrators with the outcome in doubt.

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