NY Times, by David Kirkpatrick
CAIRO — Two senior Egyptian Army officers were killed in drive-by shootings Friday, on a day of largely unfulfilled fears about planned Islamist protests against the military-backed government.
A small, ultraconservative Islamist group known as the Salafi Front had called for a day of protests on Friday, contending that Egypt’s religious identity has come under assault since the military takeover last year that removed President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, issued mixed statements about the protest, supporting the concept but urging demonstrators to avoid confrontations with the police and to keep protests peaceful.
Most other Islamist groups opposed the call to protest under a banner of Islam rather than democracy. Those included the main ultraconservative Islamist movement, which had supported the takeover, as well moderate or liberal Islamist groups who have joined the Brotherhood in opposition to the current government. Gamaa al-Islamiya, which led a violent insurgency in the 1990s but later renounced violence, also condemned the protests as polarizing.
For weeks, however, the state-run and pro-government media were full of escalating warnings about the dangers of the day. Pro-government clerics supported calls for a forceful response by security forces, and military and police forces were on high alert Friday.
Much of the capital was under a tight lockdown. Many businesses were closed and streets were deserted. State media reported that the police had arrested more than a hundred alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood accused of plotting violence, adding to the many thousands of Brotherhood members already jailed since the takeover.
Aside from the killing of the two officers, however, there were only sporadic, scattered protests and a few small explosions with no casualties, a level of violence that has become unexceptional here since the takeover. Security officials said that three protesters had been killed in clashes with the police in the neighborhood of Matareya, on the outskirts of the capital, and that at least 135 were arrested from Cairo and Giza, the district across the Nile.
The outsize fears of the day may reflect growing fears of a militant insurgency centered in the North Sinai. Attacks by Islamist extremists have killed hundreds of soldiers and police officers since the takeover, and two recent assaults have been unusually brazen. One killed at least 31 officers at a military checkpoint in the North Sinai in October, and another this month targeted an Egyptian naval vessel at sea.