Egyptian government forces clashed with demonstrators on Saturday as tensions mount surrounding a planned opposition protest on Sunday that will likely throw the country even farther into chaos.
A bomb at a demonstration in Port Said attended by hundreds of anti-government protesters killed one man and wounded 15.
The protest was one of several across the country, ahead of large rallies set for Sunday that are aimed at unseating Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
Security officials have begun an investigation into the blast.
Protest organizers said on Saturday that 22 million people – over 40 percent of the Egyptian populace – had signed a petition calling on Morsi to quit, though the claim has not been independently verified.
US President Barack Obama said that he was concerned about the Egyptian situation and the potential for more violence.
“Obviously we are all looking at the situation with concern,” Obama told a news conference in South Africa.
The US has evacuated nonessential diplomatic personnel and warned citizens to avoid Egypt. Additionally, it has also put 200 Marines in Italy and Spain on alert in case they are needed to protect the US Embassy and its citizens in the country.
Anti-government demonstrators coming from a number of locations marched on Cairo’s Tahrir Square over the weekend, while pro-Morsi Islamists have held a sit-in protest since Friday at the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in the capital.
In a sign that the situation will likely worsen, many have begun stocking up on food and have decided to stay home to avoid any violence.
Morsi met with Defense Minister Abel-Fattah el-Sisi and Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim on Saturday to review security for the protests, according to a report on Ahram Online. Soldiers and military personnel have been spread throughout the city.
The protesters had set up 18 tents so far outside the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis District and 150 tents in Tahrir Square.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk
reported on Saturday evening that many protesters demanding Morsi’s overthrow were gathering at the Defense Ministry, with some chanting for Sisi to take power by means of a military coup.
There was also unrest in Sinai, where a police general was gunned down.
On Friday, Andrew Pochter, a Jewish 21-year-old college student from Chevy Chase, Maryland, was stabbed to death during a protest in Alexandria. Pochter was a student leader at the branch of the Hillel organization at Kenyon College.
The protesters were in the process of storming one of the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which said that eight of its offices were attacked on Friday. Officials said that more than 70 people were injured during the clashes in Alexandria.
It was not clear what Pochter was doing at the protest, but Egyptian officials said he was carrying a small camera.
Marie Harf, a US State Department spokeswoman, confirmed that Pochter had been killed.
“We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” said Harf, who added that the US Embassy in Cairo and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs were providing “appropriate consular assistance.”
A statement on a Facebook page titled “R.I.P Andrew Driscoll Pochter,” which appeared to have been posted by his family, said Pochter had traveled to Alexandria for the summer to teach English to seven- and eight-year-old Egyptian children and to improve his Arabic.
“He went to Egypt because he cared profoundly about the Middle East, and he planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding,” it said.
According to the statement, Pochter was looking forward to beginning his junior year at the university in Ohio and had planned to study in Jordan next spring. He had also spent time in Morocco.
“Andrew was a wonderful young man looking for new experiences in the world and finding ways to share his talents while he learned,” the statement said.
A statement from Kenyon College said Pochter was interning in Alexandria with AMIDEAST, an American nonprofit organization that runs education and development programs in the Middle East and North America.
Several of Pochter’s colleagues at the organization posted messages on the Facebook page.
Many in the anti-government camp feel that the US has been supporting Morsi at the opposition’s expense. An article in Al-Ahram Weekly
published over the weekend stated that Obama sought to form a “strategic partnership with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Last week, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson made it clear that Washington was against bringing change through opposition protests.
“Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical,” she said.
A number of Twitter users had posted pictures of protesters holding up signs with an X over a picture of the ambassador as well as statements against her for supposedly supporting the government.