Supporters of toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi took to the streets on Friday afternoon in their thousands despite warnings from the military-backed government to abandon their protest camps.
Mass pro-Morsi marches have set off from some 33 mosques across Cairo and Giza under the slogan “Egypt against the coup.”
The Egyptian cabinet on Wednesday announced that it had authorised the interior ministry to disperse ongoing pro-Morsi sit-ins in Giza and Cairo’s Nasr City.
State news agency MENA said that large numbers of Morsi supporters had been bussed in from outside the capital to take part in the Friday marches.
Television footage showed the pro-Morsi sit-in in eastern Cairo outside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque was already packed by early afternoon, despite the sweltering heat.
Demonstrators held aloft posters of Morsi as well as banners condemning what they term a “coup d’état” in reference to his ouster by the military on 3 July. Some of the demonstrators used a hose to sprinkle water on the crowds.
On the outskirts of the capital, thousands of Morsi supporters marched towards Media Production City, the media complex outside Cairo where most privately-owned channels are based. Security had been tightened up at the site, which has seen over the last year a number of protests by pro-Morsi groups complaining of anti-Islamist bias on the part of the Egyptian media.
Mass pro-Morsi marches were also held in several other cities, including Alexandria.
A thousands-strong march have converged outside the headquarters of the city’s security directorate to protests the interior ministry’s statement that it would disperse the pro-Morsi sit-ins. Several rallies are also planned to in the city’s eastern district of Smouha.
International rights groups Human Rights Watch criticised the announcement on Wednesday by the cabinet authorising the dispersal of the protests.
“Given the Egyptian security forces’ record of policing demonstrations with the routine use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force, this latest announcement gives a seal of approval to further abuse,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International in a statement on Wednesday.
Egypt’s interior ministry warned Morsi’s loyalists on Thursday to quit their protest camps, pledging a safe exit to them if they didn’t resort to violence.
In an interview with the London-based newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, military spokesman Ahmed Ali said the army hopes for “peaceful dispersal” of the sit-ins.
The factional stalemate has set off fears of an imminent violent showdown, a week after at least 80 pro-Morsi protesters were gunned down in clashes with police a short distance away from the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in.
US Middle East envoy William Burns will arrive in Cairo on Friday night as international efforts to broker a resolution to Egypt’s political crisis are ramped up.