The country’s political divisions flared after state media reported that prosecutors had charged Morsi with espionage, murder and conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The allegations infuriated Morsi’s Islamist supporters, who have been camped for weeks outside Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque. They cursed the military and chanted “God is great.”
Anti-Morsi protesters surged into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to support the coup that overthrew the former president on July 3 and to back an anticipated crackdown against Morsi’s Islamist backers.
Egypt’s military commander this week called for mass demonstrations to support a crackdown on “violence and terrorism” that have spread since Morsi’s ouster. The call by Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi set the mood for a showdown Friday.
Fireworks exploded overhead and army helicopters buzzed city skylines. Police fired tear gas to disperse scuffles in the coastal city of Alexandria, where four people were reported killed.
Skirmishes also broke out in Cairo. The Health Ministry said that 71 people had been injured nationwide.
As protesters on both sides massed, Egypt’s official news agency reported Morsi would be held for 15 days while prosecutors investigate charges that in 2011 he conspired with Hamas to attack police stations and jails, "setting fire to one prison and enabling inmates to flee, including himself, as well as premeditated killing of officers, soldiers and prisoners."
Morsi said in an earlier television interview that unknown men freed him and other Brotherhood members from Wadi Natroun prison. The criminal charges are widely seen as politically motivated. But they appear to give the army a legal basis to detain the president amid growing international criticism that Morsi has been held incommunicado for almost a month.
Hassieb is a special correspondent.