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Egypt’s Second City Tense Ahead of Leaderless Protests

  • Heather Murdock

An image made from video shows police firing tear gas at supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Alexandria, Egypt, Aug. 14, 2013.

An image made from video shows police firing tear gas at supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Alexandria, Egypt, Aug. 14, 2013.

The volatile port city of Alexandria has long been a stronghold of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, but now - like the rest of the country - it is divided between Brotherhood followers and supporters of the military. Dozens of people have died in clashes in Alexandria in recent weeks. Brotherhood protesters vow they will be out on the streets again this Friday, though they intend to demonstrate more quietly than usual to avoid battles with police and opponents.

In some ways, Alexandria is as it has always been. Waves from the Mediterranean crash against rocks next to the main road by the sea. Couples sit quietly talking as they watch the water.

What’s different now is the atmosphere of fear. At an apartment in a residential neighborhood we spoke to Amira, an activist we first met in Cairo, near the Rabaa al-Adiweye mosque, at a rally demanding the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as president.

As her nephew studied the Quran with a tutor on an outside balcony, Amira admitted her hopes for a resolution of Egypt's national divide are fading. We're inside the apartment, because using microphones and camera gear in public raises suspicions.

Amira said almost every night, she marches with protesters in small groups. Everyone is careful to avoid major roads and squares where the army patrols. On Friday, rallies are planned in both Alexandria and Cairo. With most of the Brotherhood's leaders either in jail or in hiding, the rallies are organized by rank-and-file protesters.

“The title for the protest for this week: 'The people lead their own revolution," she said. "The people lead their own revolution because all of the leaders are in prison.'”

Amira said she is not a Muslim Brotherhood member, but supports the protests because Morsi was elected and she believes the military had no right to depose him nearly two months ago.

Egypt's military leaders said they acted in response to mass anti-Morsi demonstrations that had millions of people out on the streets in late June and early July. The military said the Brotherhood has been stockpiling weapons, and it blames the Islamist group for inciting the violence that has followed Morsi's ouster - clashes that have killed more than a thousand people during the past two weeks.

Down the street at a noisy seaside café near a military office, Mohammed, a former activist, sat with an Egyptian photographer, enjoying a shisha pipe [hookah]. The two have removed their Facebook profile photographs, replacing them with solid black squares - a symbol of their deep disappointment in both sides.

Mohammed spoke over the noise into a recorder casually left on the table along with our cellphones:

"I think for me it should be about human rights - to be a liberal country," he opined. "And that means more education. Because many people now aren't educated."

He added that people in Egypt have become so polarized, at least in part, because media reports are so one-sided.

According to the government, the foreign press in Egypt has been shamelessly publishing pro-Brotherhood propaganda. The Brotherhood says the Egyptian press has been shamelessly publishing pro-military propaganda.

Supporters of both sides - the military and the Brotherhood - say they have the same goal. They want a free, economically prosperous and democratic country - something better than they had under the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in 2011 by mass public protests.

“We have no guarantee it will not become [again] like the time [of] ... Hosni Mubarak," Amira said."Everything is false and people can see it is not right. They maybe will close the gate for the place for the [voting] and they will come out with the results.”

Last week, Mubarak was allowed to leave prison and placed under house arrest - leading some activists to say the revolution is over, because the dictator appears to be walking away from his crimes. Others on both sides of the conflict say Egypt's revolution has only just begun.
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