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July 29, 2013

Cairo Protesters Divided by Opposing Views

by Heather Murdock

In polarized Egypt, protesters in Cairo occupy camps divided by fear and barriers made of brick and barbed wire. The military has threatened supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi with orders to disperse while leaders of his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for marches on security buildings.

In the hot afternoon, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is nearly empty. This was the epicenter of the 2011 demonstrations, which led to what Egyptians proudly refer to as “The Revolution,” that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-reign.

On Friday night, the square was packed with supporters blowing plastic horns as fireworks shot up over the crowds.

But now the demonstrators who occupy the square have set up checkpoints on the roads surrounding their camp and some are blocked with sandbags, tires and barbed wire.

Aly el-Gazzar makes woodcarvings by his tent in the center of the square.  He says he’s living in Tahrir Square in support of Army Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who ousted the democratically elected Morsi on July 3 and is now detaining him.

Gazzar says he’s been carving since the revolution and this protest is a continuation of Egyptians' quest for a fair government.

Another protester, Mohammad Hussain, says Morsi, after a year in office, is responsible for the deterioration of Egypt’s economy, security, health and justice system.

Hussain says this camp is peaceful but in danger of being attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, which he says is well armed and looking for a fight. Pro-Morsi protesters are either criminals or being paid by outsiders to sit in their camp, he says.

At the camp across town near the Raba'a al-Adawiya mosque, pro-Morsi protesters sleep under tents or quietly study their Qurans near the entrance, guarded by a dozen men and blocked by sandbags and makeshift brick walls. Thousands have been camping for a nearly month here, demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

At the end of the row of tents is a rally by the mosque. Demonstrators dance and chant for hours despite the afternoon heat.

Amira Ali, a student at the University of Alexandria, about two-and-a-half hours away, came to Cairo to join the protest, which she says is to reclaim Egypt’s democracy.

She calls the protesters in Tahrir Square “rubbish people” who are either paid thugs or just paid to sit in the square.

“I’m coming here to fight for our freedom and the democracy even if I get killed," Ali said. "I don’t want to live like animals.”

Ali says protesters are unarmed but prepared to fight with sticks and rocks if their camp is attacked. On early Saturday, clashes just outside the camp killed scores of people and bodies filled the Morsi supporters' make-shift morgue.

The Muslim Brotherhood called Monday for night demonstrations near security buildings after a thinly veiled threat from the interior minister to dismantle the camp.

Muslim Brotherhood member Abdulhameed Elawa says the weekend violence may help the organization regain some of the support it lost under Morsi’s leadership.

“The Egyptian society is kind people," Elawa said. "They know the people who are honest and who are not. They are killing us and we are shedding blood. And those that are shedding blood should be honest.”

On Monday morning a military helicopter dropped leaflets on the pro-Morsi camp urging them not to march on security buildings and not to be violent.

Nearly 200 people have been killed since Morsi’s ouster. Protesters in both camps say if there are clashes and people die, they will be acting in self-defense.