CAIRO — As Egypt recovers from another night of protests exactly one month after former president Mohamed Morsi was deposed, here’s a guide to who is still protesting:
Location: Raba’a Al Adaweya in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza
Supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi staged fresh rallies Friday night under the banner “Egypt against the coup,” after the military-backed civilian government threatened to clear protesters off the streets, again. But the tougher the military gets, the more entrenched the Muslim Brotherhood becomes.
Early Saturday morning, Egypt’s state news agency reported police fired tear gas at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo’s Media City and subsequently detained at least 31 protesters. Raising the prospect of further bloodshed, state-controlled TV also reported that security forces will implement a cordon within 48 hours around the main pro-Morsi sit-ins.
For the last month, Morsi supporters have staged a massive sit-in in eastern Cairo surrounding the Raba’a Al Adaweya mosque and a smaller one in Nahda Square, near Cairo University’s main campus in Giza. The Brotherhood estimates at least 50,000 people sleep in the Raba’a Al Adaweya tent city nightly, and as many as 500,000 join the evening rallies.
The population is largely Islamist and increasingly conservative, with smaller pockets of protesters who reject the way Morsi was deposed. Under the Brotherhood’s guidance, the latter group has championed the newly branded Anti-Coup Movement, designed by political activists to put distance between the Brotherhood’s hard line reputation and attract younger supporters.
Last week, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry asked the protesters “to quickly leave and evacuate” the sit-in in the “interest of the homeland.” The ministry promised “safe exit and complete protection” to those who complied. But Brotherhood spokesmen tell ABC News, no one is leaving any time soon.
The ministry said they were awaiting final approval from the National Defense Council on a proposed clearing plan, but one week after 80 people were killed and hundreds injured in a pre-dawn raid, many fear a third massacre in as many weeks may be imminent.
“The more massacres, the more international sympathy the Brotherhood gets, the more domestic sympathy the Brotherhood gets,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
And with no viable political alternative, the Brotherhood’s supporters are unlikely to leave Raba’a on their own terms.
“From a strategic standpoint, the Brotherhood would not be well-served to leave Raba’a,” says Hamid. “If not protesting, what’s their next card? What’s their leverage? What’s their bargaining power?”
With so many top Brotherhood leaders currently being held incommunicado including Morsi, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tells ABC News a sit-in committee has been established to make short-term strategy decisions. The committee meets every few hours, and the remaining Brotherhood leadership, many with arrest warrants, can be found near the center of the camp out of reach of police, for safety.
While reinstating Morsi remains the Brotherhood’s main objective, they say they’re also fighting for the ideals ushered in with the country’s first democratically elected president.
“All Egyptians, we want our rights. This is not about Morsi, this is a basic violation of human rights,” former Youth Minister and Freedom and Justice member, Osama Yassin tells ABC news.
That sentiment was echoed by Osama Morsi, son of the former president. ”The issue is not Morsi, the issue is not the person,” he told ABC News earlier this week.
“For all Egyptians, he is a freedom idea, a democracy idea, a legitimacy idea,” Osama Morsi said.
Haddad tells ABC News there is “nothing” the current government could offer the Brotherhood short of Morsi’s reinstatement to bring them to the negotiating table. He says they are prepared to continue the Raba’a sit-in “for months, even a year” if necessary. After years of persecution by Egypt’s ruling elite, there’s a sense that if the Brotherhood doesn’t win this fight, they may never recover.
Location: Tahrir Square and the Presidential Palace in Cairo
Across town, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, millions of protesters gathered last week to show their support for Morsi’s ouster and the new military-backed civilian government.
“The people, the source of all power, mandate the army and police to purge terrorism,” read a banner stretched across the entrance to Tahrir Square at last Friday’s massive rally. Dedicated members of the military turned up next to Coptic Christians, liberals and Muslims to answer the call of Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi when he asked for a “mandate” from Egyptians to “fight terrorism.”
“We want a new path for our country. A new democracy. A new representation,” a Coptic Christian woman named Mary told ABC News last Friday. “The Muslim Brotherhood does not represent all Egyptians.”
Supporters of the new government reject the label “coup,” describing Morsi’s ouster as a popular revolution. Even among those who voted for Morsi, the list of complaints is long and they claim he ignored rising discontent and alienated political allies. During Morsi’s short tenure in office, food prices soared and unstable supplies of electricity and gas forced black-outs and long lines at gas stations.
“The world was collapsing. The country was falling down,” retired General Samah Seif el Yazel, head of the Al-Gomhoreya Institute for Security Studies in Cairo, tells ABC News. “The people had to voice their opposition, take back their country.”
Despite visits from African Union officials and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton earlier this week, a political alliance between the interim government and the Brotherhood looks increasingly unlikely. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns touched down in Cairo late Friday night for his second visit since Morsi’s ouster.
Yazel tells ABC News that the Brotherhood has refused recent invitations to participate in formal political discussions. “You cannot actually put a gun to their heads… They can do whatever they want,” he said. “The ball is in their court.”
Despite accusations that Sisi is pulling the puppet strings behind the civilian government headed by interim president Adly Mansour, Yazel maintains Sisi will remain on the sidelines during the political crisis.
“Many [foreign officials] have asked to meet with Sisi but it’s the wrong guy. Go meet with the interim president. [Sisi] does not want to touch the politics.”
As the for the Ministry of Interior’s threats to clear the pro-Morsi sit-ins, Yazel dismissed any kind of military involvement.
“The military will not come near Raba’a. The police will do it and they do not need back-up,” Yazel says.
The Third Square
Location: Sphinx Square in Giza
Somewhere between Tahrir Square and Raba’a Al Adawya, the Third Square has popped up.
“The Third Square is a fledgling political movement created by liberal, leftist and moderate Islamist activists following the military coup in Egypt,” reads the group’s Facebook Page.
Last weekend, the group of young Egyptians rallied for a different path forward, rejecting both the military and the Brotherhood. In Giza’s Sphinx Square, posters calling for Morsi’s ouster were held high alongside pictures of Sisi with an “X” through his face.
“They’ve created a space where the original attitude of the revolution expresses itself, where the aims of the revolution are remembered. They’re keeping an ember alive,” Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist endorsing the campaign, told Reuters.
With nearly 18,000 “likes” on Facebook, and growing by the day, it remains to be seen if the Third Square will become a player in Egypt’s intensely polarized political scene.