Supporters and opponents of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi are back in the streets of Cairo Friday, more than a week after the Islamist leader was deposed by the military. The Muslim Brotherhood, which refuses to accept the ouster, or join the interim government, says the country's democracy is under threat.
Even before Friday's Muslim noontime prayer had started, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters had gathered in front of the Rabaa el Adaweyeh mosque. Several men were spraying the families with water, to ease the midday heat. It is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, so no one eats or drinks for almost 15 hours.
By the time the prayers started, thousands of bodies blocked every street and sidewalk. And people were still arriving, responding to the the Muslim Brotherhood's call for a massive protest to demand Morsi's return.
Morsi was elected last year, defeating a political opponent many associated with the previous government of Hosni Mubarak, ousted through a popular rebellion with the support of the military. Morsi supporters, like tour operator Fady Gamel, say the military's ouster of the Islamist leader threatens the country's democracy.
As Gamel put it, "It is a fight between democracy and dictatorship." He says the generals who have always been talking about democracy, democracy, are not democratic, they are, as he put it, a democ-tatorship.
Sitting indoors in an empty hall near the protestors, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el Haddad said in an interview with VOA that their demonstrations are peaceful and stand against what he describes as a military grab for power.
The military has no role in politics, he said. They have to be put back into the barracks, and politicians and the people through the ballot box lead the scene. That is what we are standing for.
On Monday, dawn confrontations between Muslim Brotherhood protestors and the military ended with 51 killed and many injured.
In Tahrir Square, anti-Morsi protestors accuse the Brotherhood of instigating violence. The say the army merely responded to the democratic will of the people, ousting Morsi on July 3.
Sebastian Gorka, Director of the National Security Fellows Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, agreed.
"We should admit that while Morsi won the election, he almost immediately began to act in ways that are fundamentally unconstitutional, undemocratic and not representative of the will of the Egyptian people."
Down in Tahrir Square on Friday, volunteers were setting up hundreds of tables and chairs for the evening fast-breaking Iftar meal, traditionally a time when families gather. Thousands were expected to fill the square by nightfall.
Activist Mamdouh Hamza, an engineer, had arrived early. He shrugged off the Brotherhood, saying they were no longer relevant in Egypt. "They are finished as far as I'm concerned,' he says. 'Absolutely finished. They have no support of the people."
But the mood in the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold was different on Friday. Despite the arrest of many of their leaders, many thousands turned out to insist Morsi be reinstated. El Haddad said they will keep increasing the pressure on the military.
Army tanks were on standby in different areas around the city, should the demonstrations deteriorate.
Whatever the outcome, Friday's rallies reflect the deep political divisions in Egypt today and the challenges that interim president Adly Mansour faces in his attempts to unify the country.
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