CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security forces fired tear gas Friday to disperse hundreds of Islamist demonstrators defying a new protest law that has drawn widespread criticism from the international community and democracy advocates.
Since a popularly backed military coup ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July, his supporters have been staging near-daily protests calling for his reinstatement, with Friday's weekly Muslim prayers a key time for mobilizing their largest numbers. The rallies have often descended into street clashes with security forces or civilians.
In an effort to quash rallies Morsi supporters have managed to sustain despite a sharp security crackdown, authorities adopted the law Sunday, restricting the right to protest. Among other rules, it requires organizers to notify the Interior Ministry three days before holding a protest, while also setting prison terms and high fines for violators.
Since the law was enacted, security forces forcefully dispersed several protests, including one organized by non-Islamist activists. Clashes at a student demonstration left one dead Thursday. The Interior Ministry warned on Thursday that security forces will deal "firmly" with "illegal" protests organized by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group.
Friday's clashes erupted when security forces moved to disperse the scattered protests organized by Islamists across the country. In one western Cairo neighborhood, police fired tear gas as protesters hurled stones and burnt tires, security officials said.
In Cairo's twin city of Giza, residents hurled stones and bottles at Morsi supporters. In the Suez canal city of Suez, army and police fired water cannons to disperse the Islamists. In the industrial city of Mahalla al-Kobra in northern Egypt, police also dispersed protesters.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Security had been beefed up in the capital in anticipation of the protests, with army and police forces deployed in several main squares, state news agency MENA said.
In one protest in eastern Cairo, Islamists chanted "down with all killers, down with Abdel-Fattah" referring to Egypt's army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup against Morsi last July. They also held banners with the outline of a hand raising four fingers, a symbol used to commemorate the violent dispersal by security forces of an Islamist sit-in in mid-August.
Ashraf Abdel Wahab, a demonstrator who came with his wife and eight children to protest in Cairo, said the new protest law would not stop Morsi supporters from marching.
"We do not care about the protest law whatsoever," he said. "This is not the first time they attack marches or kill protesters. It's just a cover that they're using."