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Egypt Islamists gather in Cairo as divisions deepen

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thousands of Egyptian Islamists gathered for a show of strength in Cairo on Friday ahead of planned opposition protests calling for President Mohamed Morsi to quit, highlighting the tense political divide in the Arab world's most populous state.

Morsi supporters carrying Egyptian flags and portraits of the president poured into the packed square outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Nasr City neighbourhood.

Islamist groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails, had called for the rally ahead of planned June 30 protests to demand an early presidential election. Morsi has been in office for just one year.

"Yes to stability, yes to legitimacy," the protesters chanted, holding banners denouncing the June 30 opposition protests as anti-democratic.

The Islamists accuse the opposition of being remnants of the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and of seeking to sow chaos.

"Democratically elected presidents are never removed through protests," Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad said.

A campaign dubbed Tamarod (rebellion in Arabic) first called for the anti-Morsi rally to coincide with the first anniversary of his becoming president.

Morsi was elected after a military-led transition that followed the ouster of long-time president Mubarak in a 2011 popular uprising.

As a senior leader of the Brotherhood, banned but tolerated under Mubarak, Morsi vowed to be a president "to all Egyptians" in a bid to allay fears of partisanship.

But since taking office, he has squared off with the nation's judiciary, media, police and most recently artists, and his opponents accuse him of giving the Islamists a monopoly over public institutions.

Tamarod rapidly picked up steam, and organisers said they have collected millions of signatures demanding that Morsi quit, leaving the government jittery and energising the fragmented opposition.

The president's supporters insist he is cleansing institutions of decades of corruption, and have condemned the June 30 protests as a "coup against democracy".

With bitter political divisions repeatedly spilling onto the streets in violent and sometimes deadly clashes over the past year, the Islamists have accused the opposition of seeking to sow chaos.

A spokesman for the FJP, Ahmed Aqil, urged protesters "to embrace peaceful expression of opinion".

"We seek stability in order to rebuild the nation. Violent demonstrations cannot establish a stable regime. Those who say 'President Morsi will be toppled on June 30' live in an illusion they must give up," he said on the FJP website.

US ambassador Anne Patterson weighed in, urging protesters to organise rather than take to the streets, provoking fury in opposition quarters.

"Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply sceptical," Patterson said in a speech this week.

"We oppose chaos. Chaos is a breeding ground for instability.....I recommend Egyptians get organised. Join or start a political party that reflects your values and aspirations," she said.

In the latest move to roil the opposition, Morsi appointed 17 new provincial governors on Sunday, including seven from the Brotherhood.

He also named as governor of Luxor a member of an Islamist group whose militants massacred 58 foreign tourists in the town in 1997, prompting the tourism minister to resign in protest.

The move, which expands Islamist control of key institutions, was seen by the opposition as a provocation.

The appointments led to clashes in several Nile delta provinces between supporters and opponents of Morsi, in what some fear is a prelude to more serious confrontations on June 30.

A leader of the opposition, former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, recently said that "the regime is sending a message that it is not willing to respond to the demands of the people and is pushing forward with policies that are increasing anger and polarisation".

Another leading opposition figure, former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, urged Egyptians to sign the Tamarod petition and accused Morsi's "failed regime" of "killing the spirit of the revolution".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130621/egypt-islamists-gather-cairo-divisions-deepen-0