Egypt's Islamists Call Coup 'Dark Day' For Democracy

Since the military coup on Wednesday that toppled Egypt's first democratically-elected civilian president, the army has been cracking down on his Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. There are, however, many in Egypt who continue to support the ousted Islamist government.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In a week Americans celebrated their democracy, Egyptians were deeply divided on what exactly democracy means in their country. Many were celebrating the ouster of a democratically elected president who they say had disregarded the will of the people. Others call that coup a dark day for democracy.

Today in Cairo, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in support of Mohammed Morsi. NPR's Leila Fadel spent time with some of those supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAYERS)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: For as far as the eye can see people bend their heads in prayer at a sit-in in Cairo. They are staying here to support ousted President Mohammed Morsi, but in the last 24 hours many of their leaders were either detained or have gone missing.

God almighty shake the lands beneath the traitors, the preacher says to the crowd, defeat their hearts. This is their Tahrir Square. And at every entrance men in hard hats hold sticks and bats, prepared to defend the area from attackers. A sense of betrayal permeates this crowd. The same people they stood side by side with to bring down former President Hosni Mubarak, battle the police and call for democracy, changed the rules of the game on them because they didn't like the outcome of the ballot box.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

FADEL: Outside the area, military tanks close off the road leading into this part of eastern Cairo, and barbed wire seals off one of the entrances, save a small walkthrough.

ABDEL RAHMAN HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: It is a siege, says Abdel Rahman Hassan. The 32-year-old graphic designer holds a bat in his hand. It is for protection, he says. We are not here to terrorize anyone. But sticks won't protect us from bullets, he says. Men with guns came the night before. On the ground, stones spell out the words down with military rule, big enough for military aircraft above to see when they fly over.

HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Hassan walks us through the crowds, where people pray, sleep and eat. It is a little makeshift city of sorts with tents, makeshift prayer rugs and vendors centered around a mosque. And Muslim Brotherhood leaders, those who are not under arrest, speak to the crowds from a stage.

HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: I feel betrayed, Hassan says. Morsi was in power for one year and he was name-called and humiliated. As his supporters, we were humiliated in every way. In this space, no one mentions the many grievances that built up under Morsi's presidency and turned so many Egyptians against him. He failed to get buy in from other political factions, failed to reform the security forces, and supported repressive laws. And in his final days in office, he scared many Egyptians, analysts say, by speaking at a rally alongside radical preachers using sectarian language.

Morsi's supporters claim such missteps were exaggerated by the media. But hundreds of arrest warrants are out for the leadership on charges of inciting violence and insulting the judiciary, among other things. Many senior leaders are already detained, including the president, his aides and the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FADEL: Hassan walks us past protesters chanting against military rule and warning of bloodshed. Then to the media center, where members of the Muslim Brotherhood introduce us to a singer, Amal Khaled. She is dressed in leopard print, wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and a stylish headscarf. Her daughter Heidi, a young hipster with a "we will rock you" T-shirt and a bandana in her hair stands nearby.

AMAL KHALED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: I'm being stripped of my freedom, Khaled says. I stood in long lines to vote for the president, for the constitution. Still others paint the struggle much more ominously. As a battle for Islam and Islamic law against forces trying to defeat it. That depiction of Egypt's political crisis is what sows fears of violence.

As we leave the sit-in we meet Moustafa Abdel Gawad, an engineer who teaches the Quran. He stands at the entrance guarding the square. He's been here for days.

MOUSTAFA ABDEL GAWAD: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Faith in God, not violence, will return Morsi to his rightful place, he says. But already, there were sporadic clashes overnight between Morsi supporters and his opponents. And the ongoing government crackdown could backfire. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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