June 30, 2013

Crowds march in Egypt, pushing for Morsi removal

The Associated Press

CAIRO — Hundreds of thousands of opponents of Egypt's Islamist president poured out onto the streets in Cairo and across much of the nation Sunday, launching an all-out push to force Mohammed Morsi from office on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Fears of violence were high, with Morsi's Islamist supporters vowing to defend him.

Waving Egyptian flags and posters of Morsi crossed out in red, crowds packed central Cairo's Tahrir square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak, thunderous chants of "erhal!", or "leave!" rang out.

At the same time, tens of thousands marched from points around Cairo, heading toward Tahrir and toward Morsi's Ittihadiya presidential palace in another part of the city. The crowds, including women, children and elderly people, hoisted long banners in the colors of the Egyptian flag and raised red cards – a sign of expulsion in soccer.

With protesters from a range of social and economic levels in a festive atmosphere, the crowds resembled those from the 18 days of protests against Mubarak – a resemblance the protesters sought to reinforce, chanting the slogan from that time: "The people want to topple the regime."

Some carried tents, planning to camp in Tahrir or outside the palace. Residents of nearby buildings sprinkled water down on the marchers to cool them in the punishing summer heat and waved flags and blew whistles in support.

Near Ittihadiya palace, thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of support for Morsi outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque. Some Morsi backers wore homemade body armor and construction helmets and carried shields and clubs – precautions, they said, against possible violence.

There is a sense among opponents and supporters of Morsi that Sunday is a make-or-break day, hiking worries that the two camps will come to blows, even as each side insists it won't start violence. Already at least seven people, including an American, have been killed in clashes the past week, mainly in Nile Delta cities and the coastal city of Alexandria.

The demonstrations are the culmination of polarization and instability that have been building since Morsi's June 30, 2012 inauguration as Egypt's first freely elected leader. The past year has seen multiple political crises, bouts of bloody clashes and a steadily worsening economy, with power outages, fuel shortages, rising prices and persistent lawlessness and crime.

In one camp are the president and his Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line groups. They say street demonstrations cannot be allowed to remove a leader who won a legitimate election, and they accuse Mubarak loyalists of being behind the campaign in a bid to return to power. They have argued that for the past year remnants of the old regime have been sabotaging Morsi's attempts to deal with the nation's woes and bring reforms.

Hard-liners among them have also given the confrontation a sharply religious tone, denouncing Morsi's opponents as "enemies of God" and infidels.

On the other side is an array of secular and liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims, Christians – and what the opposition says is a broad sector of the general public that has turned against the Islamists. They say the Islamists have negated their election mandate by trying to monopolize power, infusing government with their supporters, forcing through a constitution they largely wrote and giving religious extremists a free hand, all while failing to manage the country.

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