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Egyptian Army Steps In After Violent Overnight Clashes at Presidential Palace

December 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: And to Egypt. Within the last 24 hours, the country has seen the worst violence since President Mohammed Morsi was elected in June.

Seven people were killed and more than 600 hurt during overnight clashes in Cairo outside the presidential palace.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Last year, they ousted a dictator. Last night, they turned against one another, religious and secular Egyptians fighting outside the palace of their first freely elected president, after riot police gave up keeping the two warring sides apart.

Seven people were killed and hundreds were injured. Both sides were armed with clubs, but eyewitnesses said the first gunfire came from President Morsi’s supporters. The president’s opponents let off fireworks. But they say they won’t back down until the president gives up sweeping new powers or resigns.

This morning, the army moved in, not to mount a military coup, but to defend a president they would once have jailed for his political views. The commander of these troops said these tanks were just to keep rival factions apart.

But if Mr. Morsi can trigger a political crisis in less than six months, then his presidency may prove short-lived.

Last month, he was the hero of the hour, brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza. Since then, he’s granted himself unlimited power and rushed through a draft constitution branded by liberals and Christians as a betrayal of Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had 70 years in Egypt’s political wilderness to prepare for government. His supporters point out that his religiously-worded constitution will easily pass in a referendum set for later this month.

MAN (through translator): Why are they always afraid of the ballot box? Whenever there is an election or a referendum, they’re afraid of the ballot box. It is because they know the people are not on their side.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Tahrir Square was far from full today. Egypt’s had its revolution, and that, for many, will suffice. Yet the president’s opponents say another may now be required.

WOMAN (through translator): We didn’t have a revolution just to return to the era of Mubarak and worse.

MAN (through translator): Mohammed Morsi has divided the nation. We want him to fall, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, because they are traitors.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Last night, Muslim Brotherhood offices were set on fire outside Cairo. And crowds are gathering again outside his palace.