Millions are expected to take part in rallies in Cairo on Sunday both for and against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, leading to fears of violent clashes on the first anniversary of the Islamist politician assuming office.
Crowds of pro and anti-government demonstrators began gathering in Cairo on Sunday for a day of mass rival rallies that some fear could lead to violent clashes in a country that has become increasingly polarised under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
Opponents of the president, who took office a year ago to the day, joined hundreds already camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square where tents have been pitched and anti-Morsi banners hung on walls.
They are calling for Morsi, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, to resign, accusing him of betraying the revolution that led to his election by concentrating power in Islamist hands and of sending the economy into free fall.
The grassroots opposition movement, which has dubbed itself Tamarod - Arabic for rebellion - is behind a campaign that claims to have collected more than 22 million signatures for a petition demanding Morsi’s resignation, which they claim reflects just how much the public have lost faith in the Islamist leader since he became Egypt’s first freely elected president following the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
"We are not an experimentation lab, one year is enough! We need a new president, one that won't just rule in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesperson for the National Salvation Front, an alliance of anti-Morsi political parties.
Violent clashes leave eight dead
They are planning to hold their own demonstrations on Sunday in support of the president, creating a potential powder keg situation in the capital, which many fear could be the start of a dangerous round of political violence in Egypt.
Already, clashes across a string of cities north of Cairo over the past week have left eight people dead, including an American and a 14-year-old, and hundreds injured. Clashes broke out outside offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and its party in at least five different governorates, and rival protests turned into violent confrontations.
Thousands have also been taking part in rival sit-ins, in place since Friday, in Tahrir Square for opponents and in an east Cairo suburb, Nasr City, for supporters of Morsi.
“We are holding our sit-in here to support the legitimacy of the constitution, legitimacy which the ballot box has brought us,” said Sayed Ahmed, a member of the pro-Morsi sit-in.
Protesters ‘ready to die’ for their cause
On both sides, passions are running high.
“For those who are protesting, some of them tell me they are ready to die,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Gallagher Fenwick. “That definitely means they are expecting some confrontations to take place.
“The leaders of both camps have promised that their respective marches this Sunday will be peaceful but it remains to be seen if their respective supporters will heed these calls,” he added.
Religious authorities have warned of "civil war" breaking out if the leaders of the two groups cannot come to an agreement. Meanwhile, the army has said it will step in if violence gets out of control but insists it will respect the "will of the people".
Police and troops have been deployed to protect key buildings around the country, security officials said. The health ministry said hospitals have been placed on high alert.
But while millions are expected to join Sunday’s demonstrations, other Egyptians are simply hoping not to get caught up in the potential mayhem.
“Some of those who are choosing to stay behind are barricading themselves inside of their houses, some people have simply chosen to leave the country,” said Fenwick.
“We saw massive crowds at Cairo’s international airport, Egyptian businessmen, those who can afford plane tickets, foreign dignitaries, embassy workers, simply choosing to leave the country before these massive protests.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-06-30