CAIRO – “The people demand the fall of the regime,” the young men shouted as
they marched around the square. “Leave, Sisi, leave,” a few spectators chanted
approvingly, referring to Gen. Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, commander-in-chief of the
Egyptian armed forces, as they blasted away with their vuvuzelas.
isn’t Tahrir Square though. This is Ennahda, the pro-Morsi sit-in protest that
has occupied the intersection between Cairo University and Giza Zoo for over a
At first glance all looks peaceful. Toddlers happily tear around
the playpen, teenagers argue over whose turn is next at the table-tennis table,
a pizza delivery bike picks its way through the camp inhabitants sleeping away
the long, blazingly hot afternoon hours.
But question any of the few
thousand “residents” and the deep undercurrent of anger and resentment soon
boils to the surface.
“We got rid of one undemocratic government two years ago, now we have to get rid
of another,” said Abdullah Mohammed, a student, who sleeps in a hastily erected
tent with much of his extended family in the shadow of the university’s Great
Hall, where US President Barack Obama delivered his address to the Arab world
four years ago.
The Muslim Brotherhood insists that both Ennahda and the
larger encampment at Rabaa, on the other side of the city, are open to Islamists
and non-Islamists alike, and certainly many men there are beardless and dressed
in Western clothing (though in several visits this reporter didn’t see any
But the presence of Sheikh Muhammad Abdel-Maksoud at the
camp on Thursday hardly tallied with the Brotherhood’s calls for moderation and
inclusiveness. He is blamed for inciting the killing of five Shi’ites on the
outskirts of Cairo in June, and this time gave another fiery speech in which he
urged the assembled crowd to continue its campaign until Morsi is
Similarly, the official newsletter – distributed to each tent
by camp “postmen” – speaks darkly of having “a duty to our 500 martyrs. We must
fulfill their dreams,” it read.
The military has made clear that it sees
these camps as threats to Egypt’s stability, and state sources have said several
times that the army and interim government won’t tolerate this challenge to
their authority for much longer.
Outside the encampment there’s little
sense yet of what’s likely to happen. The sandbags around the armored personnel
carriers that surround the area are that little bit higher, the barbed wire a
little more plentiful, and the soldiers that little bit edgier, but for the
moment, at least, people can still enter and leave the square as they
To see the walls, however, is to understand the magnitude of the
task at hand. Clearly anticipating an assault, camp organizers have added a
thick breeze-block barrier behind the piles of debris at the entrances and have
massed small mountains of stones to throw at regular intervals. Brotherhood
officials are said to have accumulated large caches of weapons as
Late Sunday afternoon, news filtered through that an Interior
Ministry official had hinted that security forces would begin clearing the
protest camps in the early hours.
The crowd that had gathered to watch an
Ennahda team play Rabaa in a hotly-contested five-a-side soccer match roared its
They won’t go quietly.
When asked what he would do if the
army or police came, Said, a scrawny 16-year-old manning an ice-cream cart,
wiped his brow and grimaced.
“We’ll fight. Maybe we’ll die.”
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