Ramadan Takes Political Tinge In Egypt

As Egyptians broke their fast at sundown Friday, rival groups staged separate demonstrations in public squares. Supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi are vowing to remain in the streets until their leader is reinstated.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's the holy month of Ramadan - usually a time of reflection, prayer, and solidarity with fellow Muslims. But this Ramadan, Egypt is divided. The ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, earlier this month and his current detention by Egyptian security forces, has polarized that country. NPR's Kelly McEvers spent last night in the streets of Cairo, as pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi camps broke the fast outdoors and took to the streets in protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET SOUNDS)

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: We're standing here, in front of the presidential palace. It's just before the breaking of the fast. It's fairly crowded; I'd say a thousand people out here, at this point. This is the main spot for anti-Morsi protests. Hello.

We're politely interrupted by twin sisters Eygad and Roula and Muhammad Ali, in brightly covered headscarves. They say they want to explain why they're against Morsi. First of all, they say, they were part of a popular revolution to oust Morsi; it was not a coup. Second, they say the split between the pro- and the anti-Morsi camps is not about religion.

EYGAD ALI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Eygad says she even voted for Morsi, but she was disappointed with what she says was his mismanagement of the country: The rise in crime, the power outages, the long gas lines. She says Morsi supporters need to understand that being with Morsi is not the same as being with God.

ALI ABDULROUF ALI: (Foreign language spoken)

Ali Abdulrouf Ali owns a computer shop. He says it's sad the two sides are divided, but that's because the other side is deluded. We ask Ali and his friends if Morsi's ouster is about people wanting to get life back to normal, to the way it was before all the chaos. It already is back to normal, says a woman named Mona. This is the will of the people. If the other side doesn't like it, that's too bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

MCEVERS: And so the fireworks start. I think it's pretty clear who's happy. A festival, he says. Yes - Ali says it's a festival.

Not far from the presidential palace is the Rabea al Adawiya Mosque, where pro-Morsi crowds were much bigger - and the mood is much different. Abu Badr owns a clothing store. He and his extended family spread their meal on a plastic tablecloth.

ABU BADR: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Last Ramadan, we were at home, he says. We had an elected president. Now, we are here in the streets, asking for his release. After the final evening prayer, as Morsi supporters vow to march to the presidential palace and confront the other side, things get more tense.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND NOISES)

MCEVERS: There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people here. Just now, they're yelling at a helicopter overhead - angry at the army, angry at those who they believe illegally deposed Mohammed Morsi. The mood here, you could say, is not happy. It's definitely one of anger; it's one of determination. It's a different view than the one you get at the other side.

HUSSEIN AL HEDDINNI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Hussein al Heddinni is a law professor who says he came from Alexandria, to show that people from all over Egypt support Morsi. Many in the crowd had been bused to the mosque, and spent the day in the heat. He says ousting Egypt's previous president, Hosni Mubarak, was completely legitimate because he'd been in power for decades, and was not fairly elected. Ousting Morsi, he says, was against democracy. The only way to restore democracy, he says, is to reinstall Morsi.

Is it even possible to imagine a world post-Morsi, and some sort of compromise going forward? Or is it just for the people here, is it just a red line - he has to come back.

HEDDINNI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: It's a long answer, but in the end it boils down to this. We will not give Morsi up.

Later, pro-Morsi supporters did march throughout Cairo - erecting roadblocks on major roads, and tents in one, big square, and protesting in front of military posts. Unlike in previous days, there were no reports of clashes, injuries or deaths.

Of course, the situation here in Egypt is more complicated than just one side against the other. There are multiple factions, with multiple demands. But as the long night ended, one thing was clear: Each side might have reasonable concerns and grievances, but the chance for compromise - at least, for now - seems distant.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Cairo.

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