Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in competing protests for and against the nation’s Islamist president Friday, ahead of the planned anti-government demonstrations on Sunday that many Egyptians are convinced will turn deadly.
By Saturday, clashes that erupted between the rival sides in the coastal city of Alexandria had left three dead and more than 200 wounded, and attackers in Nile Delta cities had set fire to offices belonging to the president’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Saturday, the State Department confirmed that Andrew Pochter, an American, had been killed in Alexandria during the clashes there Friday.
Hilary Rosen, a family friend, forwarded a statement from the family that said Pochter, a 21-year-old college student from Chevy Chase, was in Alexandria for the summer to teach English and to improve his Arabic. According to the statement, Pochter appeared to have been stabbed by a protester.
Rosen said Saturday that it was not clear whether Pochter was watching the protests or not at the time but reiterated that he was not involved. “He was definitely not a protester,” she said.
The Egyptian activist group, Tamarod, a chief organizer of Sunday’s rallies, claimed Saturday that it had gathered 22 million signatures in a petition of no confidence for Morsi. It was impossible to verify that number, and the group provided no details.
Ten non-Islamist members of the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament also used the news conference as an opportunity to announce their resignation, in solidarity with the weekend’s protests.
Activists in the audience interrupted the conference with cries for Morsi’s downfall. “Build the walls around your palace higher. Tomorrow the revolution will wipe you away,” they chanted to the president.
On Friday, the State Department advised against nonessential travel to Egypt and authorized the departure of a “limited” number of nonessential embassy personnel and family members. The U.S. Embassy said it would be closed Sunday, typically a working day in Egypt.
President Obama discussed the unrest during a news conference in Pretoria, South Africa, on Saturday. “The United States supported democracy in Egypt. It’s been challenging given there has not been a tradition of democracy in Egypt,” he said. “Our most immediate concerns have to do with our embassies and consulates. We’ve been in direct contact with Egypt’s government and undertaken a range of planning to make sure we keep our embassies and consulates protected and our diplomats and personnel there safe.”