CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptian protesters clashed with riot police and backers of the president's Muslim Brotherhood on Friday, ransacking several offices nationwide as anger over allegations of beatings and power-grabbing boiled over into the largest and most violent demonstrations yet on the doorstep of the powerful group.
As night fell, streets surrounding the Brotherhood headquarters were littered with shattered glass, charred vehicles, stones and gloves stained with blood. The number of injured reached nearly 100 from the two sides.
"We came to the stronghold of the Brotherhood. No more protests in front of the presidential palace because those ruling Egypt are here," said 50-year-old Hamat Awat, a female protester while running away from volleys of tear gas fired by black-clad riot police guarding the headquarters.
Anger erupted a week ago when Brotherhood members beat journalists and liberal and secular activists during a protest outside the group's Cairo headquarters. Journalists were there to cover a meeting. Protesters demand an apology, but the fundamentalist movement said its guards were provoked and acted in self-defense.
After smaller demonstrations since last weekend outside the headquarters, thousands of activists thronged to the building and battled Brotherhood supporters with birdshot, rocks, knives, sticks and their fists Friday. Gunshots were heard ringing in the neighborhood.
Three Brotherhood offices were ransacked by mobs in another Cairo neighborhood, in the second-largest city of Alexandria and in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla.
Egypt has faced near-constant turmoil in the more than two years since longtime, authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a revolt. His successor Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected leader, has faced increasing frustration over what many see as attempts by his group to monopolize power and the slow pace of his efforts to reform the state and fulfill the revolution's promises of better living standards and justice.
Thousands of policemen, meanwhile, have gone on strike, refusing to confront protesters, and in some provinces, Egyptians have taken to vigilante violence and killings to fight crime. The unrest has badly hurt the economy, with foreign investors and tourists largely staying away, and a diesel crisis that has crippled life for millions.
Morsi's opponents — led by many of the activists who were at the forefront of the mass protests leading to Mubarak's ouster — charge that he has done little to improve the country in the nine months since he took office. They accuse the Brotherhood, which rose in power after years of repression under the former secular regime, of seeking to monopolize power, a charge the group denies.
The anti-Brotherhood protesters demanding the resignation of the attorney general and the interior minister, both presidential appointees. They also accuse the interior minister of authorizing security forces to use excessive force against protesters. More than 70 people have been killed in protests with police since Mohammed Ibrahim was appointed in January.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Yasser Mehres blamed opposition parties for calling Friday's protest outside the group's headquarters. He said it gave way for "thugs" to infiltrate and attack Brotherhood offices.