Deposed Egyptian President Morsy's backers prepared for worst
CAIRO — At the larger of two Islamist sit-ins, men in hard hats hold wood or metal poles to guard a sandbag barrier near signs in Arabic and English that read, “Peaceful.”
Inside the encampment, bearded men carry coffins to a large stage, chanting, “With our soul and our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Islam!” More sit under makeshift tents to avoid the fierce sun, some reading the Quran.
In the month since Mohamed Morsy was ousted as Egypt's president, the sit-ins have become home to thousands of Morsy supporters; most are from his Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist political parties.
The interior ministry has ordered them to “leave quickly.” Many Egyptians expect a bloodbath if the military-backed interim government moves against them.
Last week, at least 74 Islamists were killed and 1,000 wounded in a battle with police.
Yet the Islamists — whose sit-ins can swell to the tens of thousands at times — insist they will stay, regardless of the risk, until Morsy is reinstated.
“We all — men, women, even our children — are ready to pay the price for freedom,” said Iman Abdel-Aziz, 43, an English teacher from coastal Alexandria. “We are not afraid of being killed.
“Killing won't stop thoughts and ideas. If they kill us, our blood will chase them in their dreams and nightmares,” she said, comparing that fate with Shakespeare's “Macbeth.”
The military ousted Morsy's year-old presidency and an Islamist-dominated parliament on July 3 as millions marched in cities across the country to demand that he step down.
Despite concern over bloodshed if soldiers and police attack the sit-ins, many Egyptians say it is time to get Islamists off the streets.
The largest political force backing Morsy's ouster is the National Salvation Front, a broad leftist-to-liberal coalition. In a statement, it endorsed all “legal measures” to restore security and “putting an end to bloodshed, confronting the campaign of incitement and intimidation carried out by the Brotherhood and their allies.”
The coalition said Egyptians clearly reject “the Brotherhood's fascist ideology.”
The Islamist sit-in at Raba'a Adawiya Square spreads over four blocks and feels like a small town, with its butcher, kitchen and barber stall and vendors selling Morsy posters and masks, shoes and socks, Islamic books, Brotherhood caps and more.
Posters of Morsy carry a variety of messages in English — “Artists for Morsy,” “Teachers for Morsy,” “Democracy vs. Coup.” Another, in Arabic, accuses the army's Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of ignoring “the will of the people” and depicts a gagged Morsy in chains.
Men quickly encircle a foreign reporter, standing four to five deep; Egyptian journalists have reported being assaulted here. An Egyptian human rights delegation said it was attacked when it tried to enter; the Brotherhood denies that and accused the group of being biased.
Protester Mohammed Nasar said the government's ultimatum to end the sit-in is only for foreign consumption.
“I am staying here until victory or martyrdom and the return of legitimacy as represented by Morsy,” said Nasar, 37, a lawyer.
The protesters are preparing and, “in case of an attack, there are special things — but we can't talk about it,” he said, as other men told him to keep quiet.
On a stage next to the square's mosque, relatives of slain protesters spoke as some men chanted for a revolution against the military and “Freedom till death!” One speaker called this latest crisis a “war on Islam.”
Novelist Muhamed al-Farisee believes Morsy will return to power and said he and fellow protesters “are seeking nothing other than justice.”
Samir Sayed Abid said the future is in “the hands of Allah.” He insisted the protesters are peaceful and unarmed — a claim refuted by some Egyptian media.
“They take your vote, and it goes into the garbage,” said Abid, 49, a government health worker who said he took an extended leave to join the sit-in.
Issam Abdel-Aziz, 37, expects the army to kill scores of protesters. But like many here, he said he is prepared to die for “victory or martyrdom. ... If I live 37 more years, I will spend it here.”
He and others urged journalists to cover their planned “million-man march” Friday.
Outside the encampment, many makeshift barriers remain in place, although the army has razed some. On a nearby wall, graffiti promises an “Islamic revolution.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.