CAIRO – It’s amazing how quickly a peaceful protest can descend into mayhem. One
moment the supporters of Mohamed Morsi, assembled outside the High Court in
downtown Cairo, were loudly demanding their deposed leader’s return, the next
they were exchanging blows with pro-military youths.
Residents of central
Cairo are all too used to noisy, often violent demonstrations – they’re an
almost weekly occurrence here – but this was a bit different: their former
president was on trial, and his followers were keen to showcase their
Two hours after the call went out on Facebook, several hundred
Morsi supporters congregated along one of downtown’s busiest
They chanted anti-army ditties and flicked the
four-fingered Rabaa symbol at the impassive row of soldiers standing in front of
a cordon of armored personnel carriers.
“We’re here because Morsi is the
president of the republic, and we want him back in Itihadeya [the presidential
palace],” said Ahmed Baher, a student from the Nile Delta, who insisted he had
never previously backed the Muslim Brotherhood.
A boisterous, impassioned
get-together soon turned nasty when rival political factions started pelting one
another with rocks. When a police tear gas van advanced, panicked protesters
knocked a passerby to the ground and trampled on him in their rush to
Morsi supporters insist they are undeterred by the severity of
the security forces’ crackdown – “there are millions of us protesting across
Egypt,” said a man waving a poster of Morsi – but in reality relatively few
Egyptians heeded the “Anti- Coup Alliance” calls for million- man
Morsi is a deeply unpopular character in Cairo, where street
vendors do a roaring trade in posters depicting army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
with former presidents Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser peeking over his
Even many Brotherhood partisans have ditched Morsi as their
emblem in favor of the “pro-democracy” Rabaa sign.
But Muslim Brotherhood
officials say they will continue their demonstrations until democracy is
restored, and their intransigence is winning them few friends.
Muslim Brotherhood] not see that they’re killing the city?” asked Mustafa Fayez,
a shopkeeper in the historic Khan al-Khalili bazaar, which relies on tourists
for most of its trade.
“Foreigners will never come back if they’re still
Ahmed, who operates a tea cart on a bridge spanning the
Nile, voiced similar fears. He said his income has plunged 60 percent since the
curfew came into effect, and he worries that additional violence will see the
curfew extended beyond its expiration date in 10 days.
“If that happens,
I will have problems,” he said.
Mindful, perhaps, of the chaos wrought by
their bloody dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in August, the
army and police shut off all squares of any real size, flooded the streets with
extra men and established checkpoints at the entrances to the city.
Cairenes welcome the security forces’ presence, but more than anything they
crave a return to normality.
“To be honest, I would accept Morsi as
president again if I thought it would bring stability. I’m sure most people
would,” said tourist shopkeeper Mustafa, after a third day of no customers.