Egypt witnessed a show of popular force greater than that which unseated Hosni Mubarak last night as hundreds of thousands of protesters massed in Cairo to demand the resignation of his successor.
Huge crowds marched on Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace in the biggest test yet for Mohamed Morsi, the country's first elected leader, and his Muslim Brotherhood regime.
The number of protesters exceeded the scale of the demonstrations that toppled Mr Mubarak in January 2011, with anti-Morsi rallies taking place in other cities, including Alexandria and Suez.
At least four people were killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsi, security and medical sources said.
All four dead were shot in Nile Valley towns south of Cairo – one in Beni Suef and three in Assiut.
Across the country, the Health Ministry said, 174 people were given medical treatment as a result of factional fighting in the streets.
The demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful although there were reports last night that the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters had briefly come under attack from anti-government protesters firing shotguns and throwing petrol bombs and rocks.
The biggest crowds gathered in Cairo, where demonstrators chanted "Morsi out" and held signs saying: "Yes to Islam, no to the Brotherhood". Pictures showed a vast sea of protesters converging on Tahrir Square and the large boulevard outside the presidential palace.
The police, whom the Brotherhood accuse of siding with the opposition, were noticeable by their absence – except in some cases where senior officers were spotted carrying "Morsi Out" leaflets. One group of police officers in Tahrir Square, led by a colonel, told the 'Daily Telegraph': "No names or photographs, but we are glad to see what is going on."
The Brotherhood says the police force, a Mubarak power base, has abandoned the government after it said it would not defend private property during the demonstrations, including the organisation's headquarters. Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters carried out a military-style parade at its counter-rally outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, holding up staves in unison as they marched shouting pro-Morsi slogans.
Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood adviser, admitted that the images did "not look good" to the outside world, but said that the group was being forced to defend itself after coming under attack in previous rallies. "If the thugs attack us, the police should be showing up to protect us but they are not," he said.
The rallies were timed to mark the first anniversary of Mr Morsi's election, and were backed by an impromptu coalition of opposition groups called "Tamarod" or Rebellion. It claims to have collected 22 million signatures calling on Mr Morsi to step down.
It is supported by the major secular opposition parties, who have refused to co-operate with Mr Morsi since he forced through a heavily Islamist constitution last November. It also accuses him of presiding over a breakdown of law and order and a collapse of the economy.
The Brotherhood rally was nearly all male, while the protests outside the palace featured young people in smart clothing and large numbers of women, many unveiled.
"The Brotherhood should leave power and go back to the prisons from which they were released when the January 25 revolution happened," said Hoda Fadlallah, a lawyer in Tahrir Square wearing a full black abaya, a cloak and head-covering. "They seized power by walking over the bodies of the revolutionary martyrs."
Mr Morsi made no public appearance by nightfall yesterday. His spokesman made an appeal for national reconciliation. "Dialogue is the only way through which we can reach an understanding," he said. "The presidency is open to a real and serious national dialogue."(© Daily Telegraph, London)