By Friday evening, clashes that erupted between the rival sides in the coastal city of Alexandria had left two dead and dozens wounded, and attackers in Nile Delta cities had set fire to offices belonging to the president’s backers in the Muslim Brotherhood.
An American was killed in Alexandria during the clashes Friday, news services reported. The U.S. State Department confirmed the American’s death.
A family spokeswoman identified the American as Andrew Driscoll Pochter, 21, a college student from Maryland. Hilary Rosen forwarded a family statement that said Pochter was in Alexandria for the summer to teach English and to improve his Arabic. According to the family statement, Pochter appeared to have been watching the protests as a bystander when he was stabbed by a protester.
On Friday, the State Department advised against nonessential travel to Egypt and authorized the departure of a “limited” number of nonessential embassy personnel and family members. The U.S. Embassy said it would be closed Sunday, typically a working day in Egypt.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, President Mohamed Morsi’s opponents carried photos of the president with an X over his face and promised that Friday was the beginning of his end in office. At a rival demonstration across the city, Morsi’s Brotherhood supporters swore that they would protect the elected president until their last breath.
“Legitimacy is from the ballot box!” they chanted. Of Morsi’s opponents, they yelled, “We will wipe the ground with them!”
All of Egypt seemed to be bracing for horrors that may come as protesters prepare to call for Morsi’s downfall in demonstrations Sunday, the first anniversary of his taking office.
A military spokesman told the state news agency Friday that the military is deploying nationwide to avoid “a 28 January 2011 scenario,” referring to the deadliest day of Egypt’s popular uprising.
The state-run newspaper al-Ahram reported that gold shops had closed in anticipation of unrest, and rumors circulated through wealthy and middle-class circles that ATMs would soon run out of cash. HSBC bank sent a text message to its customers that daily ATM withdrawals would be limited to 3,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $427.
The broad sense of impending doom marked a dramatic turnaround for this country of 85 million, where one year ago the first democratic presidential election in the country’s history brought Morsi to power and was deemed a step toward modernity and free politics after six decades of military dictatorship.
But many Egyptians, including some who voted for Morsi, are angry about how things have turned out. The president has failed to pull Egypt out of an economic quagmire or rectify its billions of dollars in debt. Morsi’s opponents say the president has focused instead on consolidating the power of the Brotherhood.
More than two years after revolution ended the 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak, excitement for the democratic process has fizzled. Politics has torn bitter rifts through society, fueling a standoff pitting a growing number of liberal, secular and poor Egyptians against the president’s Islamist supporters.
“Both parties think that they can win the game,” said Khalil al-Anani, an Egypt expert at Durham University in England. In recent weeks, members of opposition groups have portrayed the Brotherhood as “occupiers” of the state and extremist clerics have countered that the demonstrators are “infidels,” he said.
“They’ve adopted a very extreme discourse. And there is no common ground,” said Anani.
In Tahrir Square on Friday, thousands of anti-government protesters chanted to drums.
Opposition leaders are demanding the removal of Morsi and his prime minister. They also say they want the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament dissolved and the constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-majority committee but ratified in a national referendum, shelved in favor of a new drafting committee and early presidential elections.
For the pro-Morsi demonstrators who rallied outside a mosque near the presidential palace Friday, the protest served as a chance to defend the president against opponents who they say are trying to cheat the democratic process.
“He will not be removed except through the ballot box,” said Eid Mohamed, a factory technician from the Nile Delta.
Some wore orange hard hats and carried hard plastic tubing — “to defend ourselves,” said Said Osman, a factory manager who was also wearing protective glasses. Vendors hawked wrist and knee braces, as well as flashlights and laser pointers, on the assumption protesters would stay throughout the night. An ambulance waited on standby.
“Those who want to oust the president will have to walk over our dead bodies,” Osman said.
In Tahrir Square, opposition activists spoke with similar vitriol. Many blamed the United States for allegedly supporting Morsi.
“I hope to remove Morsi and change the whole system,” said Haitham Amer, an insurance company employee who held a sign reading “Down, down, USA and Israel.”
The Brotherhood said at least three of its members have been killed this week and more than 200 injured in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents. The group said attackers have stormed several Brotherhood offices in the Nile Delta since Wednesday. The Republican Guard fortified security around Cairo’s presidential palace .
There was no security presence at Friday’s rival protests.
“Our faith in the police is about 30 percent,” said a Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, who said the group had hired private security firms to protect its main headquarters.
He said he feared that without police or military to keep order, “you’ll find citizens on either side taking matters into their own hands.”
Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo and Martin Weil in Washington contributed to this report. The Washington Post.