CAIRO — Fighting continued in a Cairo suburb Friday as army troops stormed another barracks where rebel security forces have been holed up since the uprising began Tuesday.
Heavy fighting raged for about 20 minutes as troops advancing under protective machine-gun fire attacked the camp near the Great Pyramids and arrested about 100 mutineers, witnesses said.
About 200 rebels were holding out at another camp, in Nasr City near Cairo International Airport, according to Western diplomats. Government accounts have not mentioned the Nasr City holdouts, but according to the diplomats, the area was sealed off by troops apparently reluctant to storm the camp because it houses a large ammunition dump.
As expected, Interior Minister Ahmed Rushdi, who had jurisdiction over the rebellious Central Security Forces, resigned Friday and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Zaki Badr, a career police officer who had been governor of Egypt's restive Assiut province. Diplomats said that because Rushdi submitted his resignation after his successor's appointment, they assumed it was involuntary.
The fighting near the Pyramids appeared to take troops in the area by surprise. It broke out at a security forces camp that officers on the scene said had been pacified by the army Thursday, and only moments before President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled to arrive to inspect damage.
The road past the camp, north of the Pyramids, had been reopened to civilian traffic when the shooting started shortly after 1:30 p.m. Motorists slammed on their brakes, turned sharply around and sped off in panic as armored personnel carriers moved in and soldiers hastened to put up new roadblocks.
Information Minister Safwat Sharif said the shooting started when five mutineers who had apparently evaded capture opened fire on troops ringing the camp.
"The camp was stormed and the mutineers arrested," he said. Sharif made no mention of casualties, but ambulances were seen leaving the scene. The doors of one ambulance swung open as it rounded a corner, and a blood-soaked figure could be seen within.
Mubarak arrived in a helicopter about 30 minutes after the shooting ended and inspected the blackened ruins of three luxury hotels sacked by the security forces Tuesday night. Mubarak, his face contorted in anger, vowed that the hotels would be rebuilt.
The government, in an effort to squelch speculation that its position has been seriously weakened by the revolt, has sought to minimize the incident. The army's heavy presence in key sections of the capital was reduced and officials said that a round-the-clock curfew will be shortened to dusk-to-dawn.
Curfew Lifted for Prayers
Despite evidence that Muslim fundamentalists took part in the rioting, burning a string of nightclubs along the Pyramids road Wednesday night, the curfew was lifted for six hours Friday to allow the faithful to pray in their mosques.
Friday prayers are traditionally a time for Muslim fundamentalist agitation, and 12 trucks filled with troops and three armored personnel carriers were positioned a few hundred yards up the street from Cairo's two main mosques, Al Azhar and Al Hussein. But the prayers were completed without incident. Many people stayed home, apparently fearing further violence.
Informed sources said the move to restore normalcy and ease the curfew was opposed by senior army officers but insisted on by the government. Apparently the government's confidence was bolstered by the fact that civilian participation in the rioting tapered off after the first two nights.
There had been fear that the security forces' revolt would be a catalyst for a general outpouring of discontent similar to that which followed an attempt to raise food prices in 1977. Rioting at that time claimed scores of lives and brought hundreds of injuries.
There were signs that this might happen again as bands of youths chanting Islamic slogans attacked nightclubs and liquor stores while other civilians from poor neighborhoods looted shops and stoned cars in wealthier areas.
But the rioting ended Wednesday evening, prompting a senior government spokesman to announce that the worst troubles since 1977 were not a mass uprising but an "isolated episode . . . opposed by 99% of the Egyptian people."
Sermons Friday by government-designated religious leaders at a number of mosques blamed the disturbances on outside agitators from Syria, Libya and Iran, and warned worshipers not to heed "seditious broadcasts." That apparently was a reference to Syrian and Libyan radio broadcasts describing the violence as a popular uprising against Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
Government officials have said the mutiny in the security forces, a paramilitary organization of 120,000 men responsible for riot control and security at government buildings and foreign embassies, was triggered by a rumor that conscription terms were being extended from three years to four.