In a much smaller turn out than hoped for by activists wanting to challenge the country’s first Islamist president, several hundred protesters rallied on Friday in Cairo against President Mohammed Mursi.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands rallied to overthrow president Hosni Mubarak early last year, several dozen of Mursi’s opponents briefly clashed with his supporters before withdrawing, witnesses said.
“Mursi has men backing him,” his victorious partisans chanted. Four people were injured in the clash, including three with birdshot wounds, the official MENA news agency quoted a field medic as saying.
In northern Cairo, about 200 protesters gathered near the presidency, which Mursi occupied since his inauguration in June, chanting “down with the Supreme Guide’s rule.”
They were referring to the leader of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, to which Mursi belongs.
Opponents of Egypt’s president scuffled with his supporters on Friday during a demonstration that was billed as a test of Mohamed Mursi’s popularity on the street but which managed to muster only modest numbers against his rule.
In Tahrir Square, rival groups of youths hurled stones and bottles at each other, staging running battles in side streets. Some wielded sticks and charged opponents. Dozens also scuffled in Ismailiya, east of Cairo, a witness said.
But scenes were quieter in other areas of Cairo where Mursi’s opponents gathered, and total numbers across the capital and elsewhere were relatively modest, reaching 2,000 or so rather than the seas of people who turned to unseat Mubarak or gathered in other demonstrations since then.
The protests take place as Mursi, who assumed office amid a power struggle with the once-ruling military, consolidates his authority while two journalists critical of the president stand trial.
Activists behind the protest accuse Mursi of seeking to monopolize power after he wrested back prerogatives in August that the military council, which had ruled Egypt for a year and a half after Mubarak’s fall, had sought to retain for itself.
“Wake up Egyptian people. Don’t fall for the Brotherhood,” said Mahmoud, in his 50s, addressing about 200 people in Tahrir Square, according to Reuters. “Egypt is for all Egyptians, not only one group.”
Many now want to give Mursi time to deliver and want to judge him at the ballot box, not on the street.
“Respectable democratic countries elect a leader and then give him time to prove himself,” said Sabr Salah, 47, despite not being a Mursi backer. “We must give Mursi a chance because he won the election. We can vote him out again next time.”
Violence in Tahrir flared when witnesses heard shots. The Health Ministry reported five people wounded in Tahrir, the state news agency said. The agency also reported a doctor at a temporary clinic in Tahrir said he treated four people including three with gunshot wounds who were taken to hospital nearby.
The protest organizers demanded that Mursi repeal an interim constitution in which he took over the military’s powers to legislate in the absence of parliament, which the army has dissolved shortly before his election.
He also sacked military chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and other senior army officials who had ruled the country after Mubarak’s overthrow.
Brotherhood officials said they believed that the anti-Mursi protesters had hoped that the military would intervene against Mursi if mass protests broke out, repeating the scenario that forced Mubarak to resign.
The protest organizers appear to be a mix of ardent secularists and activists nostalgic for Mubarak’s rule, such as television station owner and show host Tawfiq Okasha, who faces trial next month.
Okasha, whose station has been banned from broadcasting, faces charges of trying to incite Mursi’s murder.
The trial of another journalist, al-Dustour newspaper editor Islam Afifi, began on Thursday.
Afifi was briefly detained after the trial before Mursi, using his contested legislative authority, amended the law allowing detention pending a verdict for media crimes.