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Assassination in Tunisia Sparks Outcry; Tension Continues Over Morsi in Egypt

July 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the unrest in North Africa more than two years after the Arab spring. Today, both Islamist and secular forces took to the streets of Tunisia and Egypt. At least two Egyptian protesters died in clashes outside a mosque in the coastal city of Alexandria.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Music and pro-military chants filled Tahrir Square today, and army helicopters buzzed overhead, as tens of thousands of Egyptians turned out to endorse General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.

MAN (through translator): I have come to support the decision of Gen. Al-Sisi. What the Muslim Brotherhood has done has stopped us from working. We don’t have any money to spend on our families. We have no work.

MARGARET WARNER: Al-Sisi had urged a huge turnout, saying it would give him a mandate against violence and terrorism. Islamists called their own mass demonstrations too. While both were generally peaceful, fighting led to deaths and injuries in several cities.

There was also new tension over Morsi’s fate. State prosecutors announced they’re investigating him on charges of murder and plotting with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in his escape in a mass jailbreak in 2011 that killed 14 prison guards. The Muslim Brotherhood accused the state of looking for an excuse to crack down on its group.

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ESSAM EL-ERIAN, Muslim Brotherhood (through translator): This is an invalid accusation. They want to stir discord in the society and to instigate violence amongst the demonstrators. But we insist that our million-person march is a peaceful protest. It is the right of every Egyptian to express their point of view peacefully and without violence.

MARGARET WARNER: The charges and countercharges played out as an interim government works on a new constitution and plans for new elections early next year. So far, Islamists have refused to take part.

For its part, the U.S. has not called what happened in Egypt a coup, which would force a halt to $1.5 billion in aid to that country.

JEN PSAKI, State Department: I’m not going to give it a one-word name.

MARGARET WARNER: Today, the State Department confirmed the Obama administration doesn’t plan to rule on that question.

JEN PSAKI: Let me just try to make this important point. The legal decision that was made was that we have reviewed and we do not need to make a public determination on whether or not a coup happened or not.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Wednesday, the administration did halt delivery of four F-16 fighters jets to the Egyptian air force.

Meanwhile, Tunisia, birthplace of the so-called Arab spring two-and-a-half years ago, also faced new unrest. Thousands protested overnight after leftist politician Mohamed Brahmi was assassinated. Police say he was shot 14 times with the same pistol that killed another liberal leader in February. Brahmi’s widow blamed the elected government.

MBARKA BRAHMI, widow of Mohamed Brahmi (through translator): This is an episode of state violence. This violence happening in Tunisia is not a simple street fight between two parties. This is a premeditated violence brought about by the government.

MARGARET WARNER: Tunisia is led by the Islamist Ennahda party, in coalition with other groups. Its supporters marched today, too, defending the government.