Thousands of Egyptians opposed to military rule have marched through districts of Cairo and other cities to demand the reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, ignoring warnings that security forces would open fire if protests turned violent.
After a relative lull following the arrests of many Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the Friday rallies were the movement’s biggest show of defiance since clashes two weeks ago in which hundreds of protesters were killed.
While most protests passed peacefully, the health ministry said three people had been killed on Friday in fighting between protesters and local residents, including one in Port Said. Morsi’s supporters said that another person was also killed in Zagazig, in Sharqiya governorate.
The only reported clash between protesters and security forces was outside a mosque in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, according to state television.
The army-backed government has arrested most of the leaders of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood since he was toppled on July 3, suffocating protests and all but silencing the movement that ruled Egypt for a year.
Just after Friday prayers around 500 protesters set off from central Cairo’s Sahib Rumi mosque chanting,
“Wake up, don’t be afraid, the army must leave!”, “The interior ministry are thugs!” and “Egypt is Islamic, not secular!”
By mid-afternoon, thousands were marching in several other Cairo districts and suburbs.
Soldiers were joined by helmeted police in black uniforms and bulletproof vests, armed with tear gas guns and semi-automatic rifles, in manning checkpoints near the protests.
They blocked access to one of the bridges over the Nile.
The Brotherhood’s call for mass protests and sit-ins was seen as a of test how much an ongoing security crackdown has crippled the group. Security forces have accused the Islamist group of using rallies to create chaos.
Violence in Egypt peaked on August 14 when police, backed by snipers and bulldozers, attacked two Brotherhood-led sit-ins in the capital. The move caused days of nationwide violence that has killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Morsi’s supporters.
Many retaliated by attacking police stations, torching churches and setting government buildings on fire.