As Ramadan Winds Down, Tensions Ramp Up In Egypt

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Muslims are feasting at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, usually a time of peace and fraternity. But in Egypt, tension is building after the failure of international mediation efforts between the interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The Prime Minister has said he's losing patience and they plan to disperse the ongoing sit-ins. Morsi's supporters are vowing to stay in the streets, building barricades and stocking up on supplies in preparation for whatever comes next.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. In Egypt, the country's Muslims are marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, celebrating with family and friends. But not everyone is home enjoying the holiday. Tens of thousands of protesters are still in the streets mainly camped out in two locations in Cairo.

CORNISH: Tensions are high between supporters of the interim government and backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The prime minister has threatened to disperse the ongoing sit-ins. Reporter Merrit Kennedy visited the largest of these camps where protesters are bracing themselves for whatever comes next.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: Pro-Morsi protesters have been camped out here for more than a month. And during that time, they've built an elaborate series of barricades at the entrances made of bags of concrete and bricks. Lines of young men with hardhats and sticks stand guard, like 24-year-old Mohammed el-Husseini. He says the government's talk of dispersing the sit-ins with force doesn't worry him.

MOHAMMED EL-HUSSEINI: (Through Interpreter) No matter how much they try, by whatever force, they won't be able to break up the sit-ins. What are you going to do with someone who's determined to be martyred?

KENNEDY: El-Husseini says he's willing to die for the cause like many others here who say it in a calm and straightforward way as if they're comfortable with the idea. Yasser al-Fakharany works at the sit-in's media center. He says the protesters will continue their struggle for the return of Morsi. Despite the hardships of this camp, he says people find ways to cope.

YASSER AL-FAKHARANY: We try to forget about the hardness and try to enjoy a little bit the life itself.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

KENNEDY: Over the course of a month, what started as a protest camp has turned into a small town completely isolated from the rest of Egyptian society. Many families are here and protesters take shelter from the hot sun in tents adorned with banners showing a smiling Mohammed Morsi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: As people line up in rows for the Friday prayers, a cleric delivers the sermon. He praises the steadfastness of the protesters. You have sacrificed with your blood, money, hearts, all that you possess, he says. Security officials say they plan to cordon off the sit-in and not allow people or goods to enter. But Hussein Sharkawy, who's in charge of the main kitchen at the sit-in, says they're not taking any special precautions.

We're in the storeroom of the kitchen, which is packed with staple goods.

HUSSEIN SHARKAWY: This is not warehouse for emergency or for any case. This is our normal case.

KENNEDY: Outside, a long line of protesters wait for a meal. Sharkawy says there's only enough to last two or three days.

SHARKAWY: I'm not afraid because our food coming from Allah, from our god. So he will support us, anyway. If they want to prevent the food here, I'm sure we can get it inshallah.

KENNEDY: Like many here, protester Nadia Mohamed Hegazy is frustrated that the interim government and the Egyptian media portray this sit-in as a hotbed of terrorism.

NADIA MOHAMED HEGAZY: (Foreign language spoken)

KENNEDY: The Egyptian media are liars and hypocrites, she says. Outwardly, the protest looks totally peaceful. But Mohamed Lotfy, a researcher for Amnesty International, says there is a dark side.

MOHAMED LOTFY: One can say that there is a systematic pattern of torture of whoever is suspected of anything by those in the sit-ins.

KENNEDY: He says Amnesty International has spoken to five torture victims who were dragged into the sit-ins where they were beaten, electro shocked or stabbed with knives. He says they were mainly political activists opposed to Morsi or residents from nearby areas. However...

LOTFY: You would think that the majority of those people who are in the sit-ins express peacefully their views.

KENNEDY: What's more, Lotfy says he's extremely worried that a new intervention by security forces will lead to bloodshed and a high casualty toll.

LOTFY: One tends to focus on the sit-in as if the sit-in was a problem. The sit-in is the result - or those sit-ins are the results of a political crisis.

KENNEDY: And Lotfy says dispersing the sit-ins would do nothing to solve the ongoing stalemate. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo.

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