Cairo: Ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi has been accused of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas and murder in his 2011 escape from prison that left 14 guards dead, stoking tensions as Egypt’s opposing political camps took to the streets.
It was the first word on Mursi’s legal status since he was toppled in a popularly backed July 3 military coup. He has been detained incommunicado, and the start of legal proceedings could halt repeated calls by Western governments to free him or file charges.
Army chief General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi has urged Egyptians to hold rallies to give the military a ‘mandate’ to confront weeks of violence unleashed by the overthrow of Mursi.
Supporters of the deposed Islamist have also announced protests.
Military officials have told Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood to end its protests and work with a new interim government or face the consequences, raising fears of a crackdown against Islamist protesters camped out by a mosque in a Cairo suburb.
Army helicopters buzzed low over Cairo shortly after noon prayers ended on Friday, and both sides warned of possible bloodshed.
The Mena news agency said the former president would now be detained for 15 days as a judge investigated a raft of allegations.
Hamas challenged investigators to find “one piece of evidence” that it had meddled in Egyptian affairs.
“At the end of the day we know all of these charges are nothing more than the fantasy of a few army generals and a military dictatorship,” Brotherhood spokesman Jihad Al Haddad said. “We are continuing our protests on the streets.”
Many thousands of men, women and children joined Brotherhood supporters at their round-the-clock vigil in north-east Cairo.
The army has threatened to “turn its guns” on those who use violence, while the Brotherhood has warned of civil war, denying suggestions it was provoking troubles.
“The Brothers stole our revolution,” said Salah Saleh, a horse trainer, voicing widespread criticism that Mursi and his allies refused to share power when they took office and then failed to tackle Egypt’s many economic and social woes. “They came and sat on the throne and controlled everything.”
Pro-army demonstrations were planned across Egypt, including the second city Alexandria, while Mursi’s backers also announced widespread rallies, with 34 in the Cairo area alone.
“It is either victory over the coup or martyrdom,” said senior Brotherhood politician Mohammad Al Beltaji, addressing the main pro-Mursi rally in the capital.
Confrontation appeared inevitable following a month of clashes in which close to 200 people, mainly supporters of Mursi, have been killed. Many Egyptians feared the worse.
“I’m staying home all day, it’s too dangerous to work,” said Shadi Mohammad, a 22-year-old taxi driver. “I didn’t think things in Egypt could get this bad, but every day you hear about clashes and deaths. Egypt is a disaster.”
State Egyptian television screened images on Friday of the celebrations that erupted the night Al Sisi announced Mursi had been deposed. The narrator declared it “the day of liberation from the Brotherhood occupation”.
“Egypt against terrorism,” declared a slogan on the screen.
Witnesses said army helicopters had dropped flyers at the pro-Mursi vigil calling on people to refrain from violence. The Brotherhood says it is the authorities themselves who have stirred up violence to justify a looming crackdown.
The Tamarud (‘Rebel’) youth movement that helped rally millions in anti-Mursi street protests before the army moved against him stressed its support for Al Sisi on Friday.
“The Tamarud movement affirms the mandate given by the Egyptian people to the armed forces to carry out the law with speed, justice and resolve,” it said in a statement.
— With inputs from Reuters and AP