CAIRO (AP) — Rival groups of Islamists and pro-military supporters in Egypt are calling for mass demonstrations in city squares across the country Friday after the country's former military chief announced much-anticipated plans to run for president in an election he is widely expected to win.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared his presidential bid late Wednesday after resigning from the armed forces in a procedural step required because only civilians can run for the country's highest office.
He had built popular support after ousting Islamist President Mohammed Morsi following days of mass demonstrations demanding him to step down for abusing power.
Morsi's supporters since then have staged near daily protests, though the demonstrations waned over time as a heavy security crackdown left thousands in prison, others in exile and hundreds more dead.
On Thursday, brief clashes broke out between Islamist students and security forces, with police firing tear gas to disperse protests near the Defense Ministry.
A call for protests by Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood described el-Sissi's nomination as proof that his removal of Morsi amounted to a coup. Its statement said el-Sissi's agenda was to "establish a republic of fear, repression, poverty and submission."
Tamarod, the group that spearheaded the protests against Morsi and supports the new government, called for street rallies of its own on Friday to "give thanks to the citizen Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for responding to the people's will" and to support his presidential bid. Its official website featured pictures of its members holding signs in support of el-Sissi in different provinces.
While turnout is not expected to be massive on either side Friday, the competing calls underlined the persistent polarization of Egyptian politics and the threat of street violence.
El-Sissi on Thursday shed his military uniform and showed up for the first time at Cabinet headquarters wearing civilian clothes.
Also on Thursday, Sedki Sobhi, who has close ties to el-Sissi and was his former chief of staff, was sworn in as the country's new defense minister by interim president Adly Mansour.
Mahmoud Hegazy was appointed as the new chief of staff. His daughter is married to one of el-Sissi's sons.