Tensions Run High Between Egypt Government, Morsi Supporters
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Egypt, supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi are continuing to protest on the outskirts of Cairo, even though the government has warned that they will soon be dispersed by force. The protestors - many of whom are from Muslim Brotherhood strongholds outside the Egyptian capital - say leaving would only legitimize the military coup. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from one of the two sit-in sites being targeted, where protestors are preparing for what they anticipate will be a fight to the death.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Morsi supporters have ripped up the sidewalks near the spot where Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by an extremist soldier more than three decades ago. The protestors used the pavement stones to build makeshift walls around their encampment here at Rabaa al Adaweya Square. It is a fortress reachable only on foot or by motorbike.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken). Defense.
NELSON: Inside, Moustafa Bakr and dozens of other men keeping watch wear plastic helmets and carry thick wooden sticks. The 40-year-old teacher says they are the last line of defense for the protestors who live in dusty tents. But he adds that they won't be able to stop Egyptian security forces when they come. He says: They have bullets, we have sticks. Fellow teacher and protestor Khaled Salama is equally fatalistic. He opens the plastic bag he carries to reveal a prayer rug and a Koran.
KHALED SALAMA: (Speaking foreign language)
NELSON: These are my only weapons, he says, adding we came here with our bare chests. He and others say they are counting on the almighty to protect them.
Many are preparing for the anticipated clearing operation by buying gas masks that vendors sell here out of cardboard boxes. Each mask costs up to $11, which is more than most in this impoverished group here can afford.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
NELSON: Brotherhood officials who want the protestors to stand their ground keep their spirits up by leading them in anti-military chants.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)
NELSON: The protestors shout at an army helicopter that swoops over the site, telling it to leave. They hold their shoes up to the sky in a sign of disrespect. But many Nasr City residents and shop owners who live near the squalid tent town say they can't wait for Egyptian security forces to clear it away. One is Hamdy Mahmoud Fouad.
HAMDY MAHMOUD FOUAD: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The realtor says he and his family can't leave or enter their home without being frisked by protestors who demand to see their identity cards. He says his business has ground to a halt because no one wants to buy a home near the square these days. That kind of disruption to daily Egyptian life is one of the key reasons the interim government is giving for deciding to end the protests.
It also calls the sit-ins a breeding ground for terrorism. Ashraf el Sherif, who teaches political science at the American University in Cairo and lives near this sit-in, is dubious of the government's explanations.
ASHRAF EL SHERIF: I think it's a clear pretext for getting rid of the protest for political reasons. Because in general terms, the Egyptian government doesn't really care very much about the welfare or the well-being of the population.
NELSON: He and other analysts here say what's really going on is political expedience. They say that getting rid of the sit-ins will take the spotlight off the military, which forcibly removed the country's first democratically elected president. Exactly when Egyptian security forces plan to move on the camps is unclear. The Interior Ministry says it will grant safe passage to the protestors who leave now. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, is calling for more protests today. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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