Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi rallied Friday in Cairo, and both sides fought each other in the second-largest city of Alexandria, where two people were killed — including an American — and 85 were injured, officials said.
The competing camps were trying to show their strength before even bigger nationwide protests planned by the opposition Sunday — the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration — aimed at forcing his removal.
The opposition says it will bring millions into the streets across Egypt, and more violence is feared.
The Cairo International Airport was flooded with departing passengers, an exodus that officials said was unprecedented. All flights departing Friday to Europe, the U.S. and the Gulf were fully booked, they said.
Many of those leaving were families of Egyptian officials and businessmen and those of foreign and Arab League diplomats — as well as many Egyptian Christians, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Opposition protesters in Alexandria broke into the local headquarters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and set fires, throwing papers and furniture out the windows.
For several days, Brotherhood members and opponents of Morsi have battled in cities in the Nile Delta. With Friday’s deaths, at least six have been killed this week.
“We must be alert lest we slide into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opponents,” warned Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, a senior cleric at Al-Azhar, the country’s most eminent Muslim religious institution.
Morsi opponents massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests in 2011 that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The crowd shouted, “Leave, leave” — this time addressing Morsi. Tents were put up on the grass in the middle of the historic square.
Dozens of protesters also gathered at the gates of the presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, urging him to resign, Egypt’s state news agency reported.
At the same time, tens of thousands of Morsi supporters, mainly Islamists, filled a public square outside the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque, not far from the palace.
“They say the revolution is in Tahrir,” said young activist Abdel Rahman Ezz, a Morsi supporter who addressed the crowd. “It is true the revolution started in Tahrir. But shamefully, today the remnants of the old regime are in Tahrir. The revolutionary youth are here.”
The palace is one of the sites where the opposition plans to gather Sunday and has been surrounded by concrete walls. Islamist parties have decided to hold a sit-in at nearby Rabia el-Adawiya.
In Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, fighting began when thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators marched toward the Brotherhood’s headquarters, where up to 1,000 supporters of the president were deployed, protecting the building.
Someone on the Islamist side opened fire with birdshot on the marchers, and the melee erupted, according to an Associated Press cameraman. Security forces fired tear gas at the Brotherhood supporters, but when the two sides continued battling, they withdrew. Protesters later broke into the building and began to trash it.
Alexandria security chief Gen. Amin Ezz Eddin told Al-Jazeera TV that an American was killed in Sidi Gabr Square while photographing the battle. The U.S. Embassy said it was trying to confirm the report.
A medical official said the American died of gunshot wounds at a hospital.
The Alexandria health department reported an Egyptian also died from a gunshot wound to the head. It was not immediately known if that victim was a Morsi opponent or supporter.
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