Protesters overrun Egypt streets
CAIRO — Millions of protesters filled streets across Egypt on Sunday, loudly calling for Mohamed Morsy to resign on the one-year anniversary of his presidency.
The turnout in the capital far exceeded the large demonstrations of the 2011 revolution that ousted Morsy's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
People filled Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 uprising, and jammed Nile River bridges leading into it. They converged from all areas of Cairo — from poor to upper-class — chanting and waving Egyptian flags.
Column after column of marchers passed the presidential palace with a deafening roar of “Leave!”
Many waved red cards, symbolizing those used by soccer referees to eject players from a game. They blew horns, banged drums and honked car horns to chants of “The people want the downfall of the regime!”
It was the largest display of public anger against Morsy and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which seized parliamentary control after Mubarak's fall.
Mahmoud Salem, a political activist who pens a popular Internet blog under the name “Sandmonkey,” wrote on Twitter: “Dear world, pay attention: Muslims protesting in the millions against Islamism. This is historic.”
Despite the unprecedented scale, the nationwide protest remained relatively peaceful, with few clashes reported before midnight. In one of them, a crowd threw Molotov cocktails at the gates of the Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo as pellets were fired back at them, according to reports.
Four deaths were reported at provincial rallies outside the capital. That followed several days of street battles in which seven people, including an American university student, were killed and hundreds were injured.
What will happen next is unclear.
Morsy has indicated no intention to step down; the Brotherhood remains defiant and the country's best-organized political force, especially in rural Egypt. But even that support was challenged as protesters came out in Upper Egypt provinces — a rare occurrence.
Many protesters vowed to remain in the streets until Morsy is removed.
“We came here to kick out Morsy. He doesn't care for this country. Under him there is no freedom or democracy,” said Walid Yehia, 35, an economic researcher. “We are searching for bread, freedom, social justice and human respect.”
Young men and women wore black-and-red headbands emblazoned with the word “Leave.” Some held up crosses and Qurans, accusing the Brotherhood of fomenting tension between Christians and Muslims.
Others carried small stuffed sheep — a dismissive symbol for Brotherhood followers.
Said Abdallah, 64, said he was protesting for his granddaughter's sake.
“Morsy is starting to burn the country,” said Abdallah, an international agricultural-chemicals consultant. “Morsy is trying to divide the country into many groups — Muslim, Christian, Sunnia, Shia. He is only working for his own party, the Muslim Brotherhood.”
He said the large turnout proves that Morsy is not the president of Egypt but only of Raba'a Adawiya, an area where Morsy supporters held a sit-in.
At that gathering, thousands of primarily bearded men stood in lines seven deep, holding sticks or metal poles and wearing hardhats and blue shields. At times they chanted, “God is great!”
Their mood was decidedly serious; and many attended from far-flung provinces. One group from Upper Egypt marched in formation, holding sticks overhead.
“We are here to support Dr. Morsy. He has only had one year,” said Ala'a Ashkar, 31, a surgeon from the province of Menofiya. “If we change the system, Egypt will collapse.”
“We are very angry against the media. They are against the revolution,” said Ahmed Al Latifi, 31, a day laborer from Assiut. “They say we are ignorant and nothing.”
“We are the majority,” added Khaled Omra, 47, owner of a trucking company.
In contrast to the armed and angry Islamist gathering, the opposition camp maintained a festive mood outside the presidential palace where marchers from across the city converged.
Police were not seen throughout the capital. Military helicopters buzzed Tahrir Square several times to protesters' cheers; some helicopters dropped Egyptian flags onto the enormous throng.
Many in the crowds cited the country's collapsing economy or other reasons — growing street crime, power blackouts and water shortages — as reasons for Morsy to resign.
For others, the Islamist turn under Morsy and the Brotherhood was the issue.
“There is no stability in our lives now,” said Ahmed Mowafi, 28, an out-of-work accountant. “We don't understand political and economic policies.
“I am staying here until he leaves,” he vowed. “I hope it will be very soon.”
Nada Khalid, 17, said she worries about the future: “Morsy is only the president for the Muslim Brotherhood. He has nothing to do with the real Islam.”
She added: “We will be here every day until he leaves. We have to take our country back.”
Protests were reported in 19 of Egypt's 27 provinces.
In Luxor — a popular tourist destination that rarely witnesses unrest — residents “filled up” the main street along the Nile, said driver Sayed Abadi, 40. A flotilla of boats crossed the river, their passengers chanting, “Leave, oh Morsy!”
Residents there began protesting a week ago after Morsy appointed a governor from a parliamentary ally, the Gama'a Islamiyya. That group was behind a 1997 massacre in Luxor that killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians. His appointee quickly withdrew.
In Aswan, as many as 3,500 anti-Morsy protesters were reported.
“For here, this is something big,” said Bishoy Hakim, a tour guide. “Both Luxor and Aswan, this is the first time in their history to protest against the ruler like this.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.