Clashes erupt in Egypt over Islamist governors

CAIRO (AP) — Clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s president and his Muslim Brotherhood Tuesday over his appointment of new Islamist governors, some in areas where opponents are strong.

The protests signaled increasing tension in the deeply polarized nation ahead of mass protests demanding the ouster of the president, Mohammed Morsi, who marks his first year in power June 30.

On Sunday, Morsi appointed 17 new governors, including seven members of the Brotherhood and one from an ex-militant group to rule the ancient city of Luxor. That appointment outraged Luxor residents, as the governor’s group claimed responsibility for a 1997 massacre of dozens of tourists there.

Egypt’s Minister of Tourism was considering resignation over the Luxor appointment, according to Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Rasha el-Azzazzi.

Demonstrators sealed off gates of governors’ offices around the country.

Security forces fired tear gas to separate the two sides in the Nile Delta city of Tanta in Gharbiya province. Fighting broke out after opposition protesters chained the gate to the new governor’s office in a symbolic rejection of his appointment. Dozens were injured, including journalists, according to the deputy health minister in Tanta, Mohammed Sharshar.

The new governor, Ahmed el-Baylie, a leading Muslim Brotherhood member and chief recruiter, managed to enter his office after supporters, armed with homemade guns, swords and knives, clashed with rock-throwing protesters to clear them away. Witnesses said an activist took off her shoes and hit the governor in the head, prompting his supporters to attack her.

Protesters then tried to set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party in the city, hurling firebombs and smashing the building’s doors, as well as damaging vehicles believed to belong to Brotherhood members, according to witnesses.

A private daily, Al-Masry Al-Youm, reported that protesters chased Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the streets, snatched three of them and dragged them down.

In the industrial city of Mahallah al-Koubra, also in Gharbiya province, protesters blocked a mosque where a Muslim Brotherhood cleric was scheduled to visit and clashed with Brotherhood members.

According to witnesses, protesters set fire to a car of another Muslim Brotherhood governor, Saad el-Husseini, which was carrying tear gas canisters. The car exploded and a cloud of tear gas billowed into the sky. The governor was not in the car, and no one was hurt.

The Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, posted on its Facebook page that Brotherhood members detained 15 rioters and handed them to the governor’s security contingent. The Brotherhood accused the local security chief of “collaborating” with the protesters.

Other places witnessed similar scenes as protesters locked the gates of the governors’ offices.

Luxor was especially restive as protesters continued their sit-in for a second day at the governor’s office, sealing off the gates and hanging signs reading, “The terrorist governor is not allowed.” Some foreign tourists joined the protest and held up a sign reading, “thanks to Gamaa Islamiya for the massacre.”

The new governor, Adel el-Khayat, is a member of the Construction and Development party, the political arm of former militant group Gamaa Islamiya, which waged Islamist insurgency during 1990s and was behind the terror attack in Luxor that left 58 tourists dead in 1997.

Gamaa Islamiya later renounced violence and turned to politics. The party is a top ally of Morsi, and its leaders have threatened an “Islamic revolution” if liberals try to unseat the Islamist president. The appointment was seen as a reward for the group’s support.

Tourism Ministry spokeswoman el-Azzazzi told the private ONTV channel that the minister, Hesham Zazou, is considering resignation because of “the heavy impact of the decision internationally and locally.” She said that the minister was meeting with prime minister to “reconsider the appointment.”

In Beni Suef, Muslim Brotherhood supporters formed human chains to enable the governor, the Brotherhood’s Adel el-Khouli, to enter his office.

The country’s largest opposition grouping, The National Salvation Front, denounced the appointments in a statement and said the Muslim Brotherhood was pushing Egypt toward more confrontations.

“The new appointments clearly show the Muslim Brotherhood’s real intentions to consolidate power and control state institutions,” the opposition group said.

Morsi met Tuesday with the country’s top heads of Coptic Church and Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s chief seat of learning, according a presidency statement.

It said that Morsi hoped that the two religious institutions would “continue to strengthen national unity and protect the nation’s interests.”

One of the country’s most influential ultraconservative Salafi groupings, the Salafi Call, issued a statement distancing itself from the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans for a rally this Friday as a show of strength.

The group denounced Islamists’ planned rallies as “political provocation” and warned against dividing society into Islamists and secularists.

However, it did not join opposition demands to oust Morsi, saying that only Morsi could call an early election.

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