CAIRO -- The streets of downtown Cairo erupted in a frenzy of violence on Friday, as protest marches and high emotions brought tens of thousands of people into the city center, where they battled with police and security forces for much of the day.
At least 50 people are already believed to be killed in the ongoing fighting, the second major day of clashes between supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military, police and their allies.
As the deadly day wound down, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a week of daily protests, a move that all but guarantees the violence will continue.
Inside the Al-Fath mosque -- near Ramses Square and the city's main train station, the epicenter of the fighting -- reporters counted between 30 and 40 dead bodies as of 6 p.m., one hour before a military-imposed nightly curfew was scheduled to go into effect. Sporadic clashes seemed likely to continue into the night, as residents set up local security committees and blocked roads in neighborhoods all around Cairo.
The violence was almost predetermined on Friday, normally a day of prayer and rest in the Muslim world, but increasingly also one of protest and dissent. An alliance of anti-military, anti-coup organizations had, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, called for Friday to be a "day of rage" and uprising, in the aftermath of the clearing of two Brotherhood-run protest camps earlier in the week. On Wednesday, the military and police had stormed those camps using bulldozers, tear gas and eventually live ammunition. The raids left more than 600 people dead.
By early afternoon Friday, shortly after the end of prayer, the scene downtown had somewhat the appearance of a trap being laid. As pro-Morsi protesters gathered in front of the Fath mosque, and with thousands more set to arrive from across the city, the military sealed off much of downtown with armored personnel carriers. Inside the cordon, the streets were mostly empty, as residents huddled inside largely out of fear of what was to come.
In front of the mosque, several thousand protesters waved flags and set off fireworks while screaming chants against the police and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief whose forces had kicked out Morsi last month. When a military helicopter swooped low over the street, the crowd pointed to the sky and screamed in unison, "Get out, get out!"
"We know they're going to kill us tonight, and all we ask is that you be our witnesses," said Mustafa Ahmed, a geologist who had come to the mosque out of "anger and sadness" at the previous days' events. "I'm here to demonstrate against the coup and to express my sorrow at the tragedy of Wednesday."
As on previous days, Egyptian state television was rife with videos seeming to show individuals on the pro-Morsi side of the clashes firing at police and civilians with assault weapons. Reporters at the scenes of fighting typically described seeing unarmed protesters, but as the day turned to night, there were increasing reports of armed pro-Morsi supporters rampaging through parts of downtown. Local vigilante groups and gangs of anti-Brotherhood thugs were also reportedly joining in the assault on the protesters.
The number of police officers killed in the country since Wednesday was 67, Reuters reported, a high figure that suggests at least some of the anti-military combatants have been armed. Eight policemen were said to be killed in the various clashes on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
Reprisal attacks have taken place across the country since the clearing of the protest camps, with dozens of Coptic churches reportedly being burnt as well as the police being targeted for brutal slayings. Angry residents of the town of Kerdasa went on a rampage, killing 11 policemen and burning their station down, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Yet yesterday was generally a day of relative calm and reflection, even as both sides of Egypt's volatile struggle seemed further entrenched in their positions. At a mosque near a leveled sit-in site, where more than 200 bodies had been stacked up and displayed for the media, family members of victims pledged to continue their fight as long as it takes.
At the same time, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, announced that they would be issuing their officers live ammunition, with standing orders to shoot anyone who attempted to take over government buildings. A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, Ahmed Ali, told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that the security forces would continue to use all means at their disposal to quell protests and unrest. "When dealing with terrorism, the consideration of civil and human rights are not applicable," he said.
And Friday, the fighting raged. As it did, Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a leading liberal political group that has aligned itself with the military-backed government, resigned his post, saying in a dramatic email to reporters that he could no longer continue to support a regime that continually sought to confront its political opponents by violent means.
Two days earlier, after the deadly clearing of the sit-ins, Dawoud was compelled to write a statement "saluting" the security forces for their work and praising their conduct.
In fact, Dawoud said Friday, he had watched those scenes with "great sadness and pain for all the blood that flowed, and strongly condemn the serious abuses carried out by the security forces."