From protest to mayhem in Cairo

Residents of central Cairo are all too used to noisy, often violent demonstrations but Monday was a bit different: their former president was on trial.

November 5, 2013 00:37
2 minute read.
Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi outside the Egyptian High Court in Cairo.

Morsi supporters outside Cairo High Court 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany )


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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 fury.

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Two hours after the call went out on Facebook, several hundred Morsi supporters congregated along one of downtown’s busiest thoroughfares.

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 escape.

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 marches.

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 shoulders.

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.

“Can [the 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 causing chaos.”

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.

Most 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.

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