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Monday, December 17, 2012

Updates on Protests in Egypt

The Lede is following the political crisis in Egypt, where supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi rallied on Friday.

5:02 P.M. |Reports of Unrest Across Egypt

Thousands of protesters remained outside the presidential palace in Cairo after 11 p.m. local time.

The palace, which was originally a luxury hotel, is known locally as the itihadiya, or “unity” palace, after a later incarnation as the headquarters of the short-lived United Arab Republic.

Despite persistent rumors throughout the night that Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi might be planning to march to the palace for a confrontation, members of the Muslim Brotherhood who gathered at a mosque in nearby Nasr City remained there late Friday according to Menna Alaa, a journalist and blogger.

Close to midnight local time, the Muslim Brotherhood's @Ikhwanweb Twitter feed reported that the Islamists would stay away from the palace “to avoid clashes.”

Demonstrations against the president and his Islamist allies were reported in other cities, including Alexandria.

Protesters clashed with security forces and members of the Muslim Brotherhood outside Mr. Morsi's family home in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya on Friday, The Egypt Independent reported, resulting in 25 injuries.

The journalist and blogge r Hossam el-Hamalawy pointed to video said to show the clashes in Sharqiya.

According to the Independent, five people severely wounded in the clashes were sent to a hospital in the provincial capital Zagazig for treatment.

The activist blogger Mona Seif, who writes on Twitter as @Monasosh, drew attention to an image posted online by another blogger, said to show tear gas in Zagazig.

Another image from Zagazig, discovered by Ms. Alaa, appeared to show clouds of tear gas near the hospital.

Elsewhere in the Delta, young activists at a rally in the city of Mahalla, where there were street protests last month, declared themselves “independent” from the Egyptian state until the President's sweeping decree is rescinded.

The proclamation appeared to be more an act of political theater than a real rebellion, but some observers suggested it could have symbolic value, echoing similar acts taken by towns in rural Egypt during the country's battle against British colonialism in the early twentieth century.

4:09 P.M. |Muslim Brothers' Go On the Offensive on Twitter

The Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language Twitter feed @Ikhwanweb continued to aggressively spar with opposition activists and critics on the social network as events unfolded on Friday. Several of the messages attacked anti-Morsi protesters as paid foreign agents or thugs or mocked the opposition for their inability to defeat the Islamists' well-organized political machine in competitive elections.

The Brotherhood's Twitter feed also seemed to borrow a page from the rhetorical playbook of former President George W. Bush, warning Egyptians of a “regional axis of evil” that seeks to undermine Mr. Morsi because it feels threatened by Egyptian democracy.

The feed, which is written by young activists who told the journalist Lauren Bohn last year that they are “tweeting to humanize the Brotherhood and correct misconceptions,” was particularly combative on Friday, one day after thousands of protesters ransacked the national headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Cairo suburb of Muqattam. Accounts from the local media and bloggers on the scene said that protesters had trashed the offices of the group's leaders and burned their contents in a bonfire outside. The structure itself appears to have remained intact, albeit it with significant damage.

The attack marked the second time in less than two years that Egyptian protesters have torched a building identified with the country's ruling party. The first arson attack destroyed the Nile-side national headquarters of former President Mubarak's National Democratic Party at the height of the uprising on January 28, 2011.

@Ikhwanweb drew attention to a photograph of a fire burning in front of the headquarters, captioned in Arabic, “Thugs setting fire to the general headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Muqattam.”

Sultan Al-Qassemi, a commentator on Arab affairs, uploaded a still frame from Al Jazeera's coverage of the attack.

The Qatari broadcaster is seen as broadl y supportive of the Muslim Brothers.

The movement's national headquarters are not the first building associated with the group that has been burned in recent weeks. Since the conflict between Mr. Morsi supporters and his opponents began, protesters have attacked and burned offices of the Muslim Brotherhood offices in several Egyptian cities. Thursday's attack brought the total number of offices attacked to 36, according to Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for the group.

The clashes took place in the upmarket suburb of Muqattam, atop a craggy plateau overlooking the capital. J onathan Rashad, an Egyptian photojournalist, reported on Twitter during the attack, “Egypt is about to witness a disastrous era.”

Mr. Rashad also transmitted a series of photographs from inside the damaged building, including an image of the ransacked office of Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the former supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group's highest executive office.

In addition to blaming, “thugs,” the Brotherhoo d has laid responsibility for the attack on interior ministry, which controls the police force.

2:39 P.M. |Rival Demonstrations in Cairo

As our colleague David Kirkpatrick reports from Cairo, supporters and opponents of President Mohamed M orsi staged competing demonstrations on Friday.

Video recorded from the Egyptian channel ON TV's live-streamed coverage of the demonstrations showed a large crowd of protesters packing the street outside the palace late Friday, where they had staged a huge rally three days ago.

Although elements of the presidential guard initially blocked protesters from approaching the presidential palace, journalists and opposition activists reported that the demonstrators were eventually allowed to press past the barricades.

BREAKING: Republican guards at the presidential palace allow protesters to approach the palace after the guards removed barricades #Dec7
- The Daily News Egypt (@DailyNewsEgypt) 7 Dec 12

The guard's motives for allowing protesters to get so close to the palace were unclear, but demonstrators rushed at the chance to approach the compound's imposing wrought iron gates, where they chanted, waved flags and prepared for a possible sit-in on the presi dent's door step. Mr. Morsi's opponents had started a sit-in at the same location late Tuesday, but were driven away by his supporters on Wednesday, leading to deadly clashes.

Sarah El-Deeb of the Associated Press reported on Twitter that some of the protesters even climbed on top of tanks stationed around the building and stood next to the soldiers, as they did during the anti-Mubarak protests in Tahrir Square last year.

An opposition activist who writes as @omarkamel on Twitter, took a darker view, reminding readers that the initial euphoria protesters greeted soldiers with in Tahrir Sq uare in early 2011 was followed by a violent crackdown on dissent.

Protesters also painted graffiti on the walls of the palace, including a message to the president's followers: “Have some shame, you sheep.”

The Cairene blogger who writes as @TheBigPharaoh noted that protesters also scrawled a slogan against the Muslim Brotherhood's titular leader, known as the supreme guide.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that put Mr. Morsi forward for the presidency, rallied< /a> earlier on Friday at the funeral of two men killed in clashes on Wednesday outside the presidential palace.

Late Friday, the Brotherhood's official @ikhwa nweb Twitter feed confirmed that supporters of the president were gathering at a mosque not far from the palace.