Opponents To Mark Morsi's First Year In Office With Protests

On Sunday, it'll be one year since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was sworn into office. His leadership has polarized the country and Egyptians face rising food prices, fuel shortages and power cuts just as the long hot summer takes hold. Opposition groups have planned major protests to mark the day, demanding early elections and vowing to remain on the streets until Morsi quits power.

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Egypt's President, Mohammed Morsi, was sworn into office one year ago this Sunday. Opposition groups plan major protests to mark the anniversary. Egyptians face rising food prices, fuel shortages and power outages in blistering summer heat.

And Merritt Kennedy reports from Cairo, demonstrators are calling for early elections and vowing to stay on the streets until Morsi quits.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: Driver Sherif Youssef has been in line at this gas station for three hours now. This is one of the few stations in Cairo that actually has gas to sell. Panic-buying ahead of Sunday's protest has worsened the persistent shortage. Youssef says he's worried about the coming days.

SHERIF YOUSSEF: (Through Translator) Yes, I'm scared. Of course, I'm scared. Everybody is scared, not just me. Maybe something big will happen.

KENNEDY: There is a widespread expectation of violence in the coming weeks between supporters and opponents of President Morsi. A new youth movement called Tamarud or Rebellion has tapped into a groundswell of public discontent about the way Morsi is governing Egypt.

Rebellion volunteer Khaled Sayed, a plumber, is out collecting signatures of no confidence in the president from passing cars. The group says it has gathered over 15 million signatures, more than the votes that sealed Morsi's narrow electoral victory last year.

KHALED SAYED: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: Sayed says the Rebellion movement originally intended to give the president a warning that he needed to reform, that he must be the leader of all Egyptians, not just his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. But now, Sayed says, Morsi's time is up and they want to see him step down.

Those signatures of no confidence have no legal ramifications for Morsi. The campaign has galvanized the weak and divided political opposition. Representatives of the opposition groups met last weekend to work out a plan for what they called the post-Morsi period, aimed at reassuring citizens that there is another option.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: The plan, announced at the end of the meeting, involves going back to the beginning of the transitional period, rewriting the constitution and holding new elections.

Khaled Dawoud is a spokesman for the main opposition coalition.

KHALED DAWOUD: We cannot take this for another three years and say this is the outcome of the ballot box because democracy here in Egypt has not really been deeply rooted, and we're still working for the proper regime - the responsible regime - to rule the country after the major revolution we had two and a half years ago.

KENNEDY: But the president's supporters see this as an attack on them and on the democratic process that led to Morsi's selection.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

KENNEDY: Tens of thousands of them gathered last Friday, and they're planning another mass demonstration tomorrow.

Sameh Talat is a tour guide and member of the president's political party.

SAMEH TALAT: We are here today to say that we support Morsi till the end. Our love, that's why we're here.

KENNEDY: Morsi gave a marathon two-and-a-half-hour speech last night, defending his record and blaming Egypt's persistent problems on the former regime.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: He acknowledged that he made some mistakes, though he gave no details. He went on to accuse his opponents of causing the current state of political polarization. Morsi offered to look into amending Egypt's controversial constitution. And he called for a dialogue with the opposition, an offer that has been on the table for months. He also showered praise on Egypt's military.

GENERAL ABDUL FATTAH AL-SISI: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army, recently said that the military is prepared to intervene to prevent Egypt from going into what he called a dark tunnel of conflict.

Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University, says that as the president and his opposition escalate the rhetoric...

NATHAN BROWN: The fundamental crisis for Egypt is just an absence of legitimate political rules.

KENNEDY: Egypt is heading for a political crisis, he says, the outcome of which is completely undefined.

For NPR News, I'm Merritt Kennedy in Cairo.

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