In Egypt today, tensions were high as supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi expanded their sit-in protests in and around Cairo. Earlier this week, the military-backed government warned that it will use force to break up the protest camps. But so far, the security forces have held back.

Egypt is trapped in a vicious cycle of demonstrations that show little sign of letting up. While the Muslim Brotherhood is behind most of them, Morsi's supporters aren't the only protesters on the streets, as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Barely two weeks after Morsi's ouster in early July, a new protest movement emerged on the scene in Cairo, this one aimed at keeping tabs on the military, the interim government and Muslim Brotherhood to keep them from returning Egypt to autocratic rule.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

NELSON: Called Third Square, the group tries luring disillusioned Egyptians with online videos like this one. In it, an unshaven man with a cigarette dangling from his lips takes laundry off a dryer rack. He looks listless, disinterested, meant to portray Egyptians who have given up all hope amid the never-ending turmoil. The song played in the background is about Egypt's revolution turning into a zucchini, which is a local metaphor for bad or mismanaged.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

NELSON: Third Square says its goal is to return Egypt to the path of establishing a functioning democracy. The group attracts a few hundred people at one recent protest held at Sphinx Square in Giza, across the river from Cairo.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The chants call on Egyptians to stand up as one national movement against the military and the brotherhood. Architect Shadi Galal(ph) is a spokesman for the group.

SHADI GALAL: We don't need to choose between two things every time. We need to choose the better things for us.

NELSON: That appeals to teacher Mai Abdel Razeq(ph), who has come here to check out Third Square with her older sister.

MAI ABDEL RAZEQ: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The younger Abdel Razeq says, we just hope there will be some change, God willing. Ahmed Maher is one of the leaders of the April 6th Movement, which has played a key role in protests here even before Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. Maher says he's not surprised by the growing discontent.

AHMED MAHER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says Egyptians last month were united in one goal, and that was to remove Mohammed Morsi from power. Now that he's gone and the Muslim Brotherhood's political power is weakened, people are starting to question whether letting the military play such a pivotal role in the transition was a smart move.

Many are also bothered by the interim government giving the military and security forces expanded powers to interfere in civilian affairs, just as they did in Mubarak's era. Nathan Brown is an expert on Egypt and teaches political science at George Washington University.

DR. NATHAN BROWN: What Egypt is doing right now is repeating the same mistakes, only doing so with much greater enthusiasm and speed. All of the flaws in the 2011 transition - a rushed constitutional process, a failure to hammer out consensus on basic issues, a complete trust in the military - those are all being repeated.

NELSON: These mistakes could spark a new round of protests by various youth and revolutionary groups that worked for the ouster of both Morsi and Mubarak. But they are unlikely to lead to any real change, says Ashraf El Sherif, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

DR. ASHRAF EL SHERIF: They lack organization. They lack financial resources. They lack leadership. They have a lot of problems and a political program concerning the short-term considerations. That's their problem.

NELSON: Across town at the offices of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, Karim Ennarah says breaking the cycle of protests will be difficult.

KARIM ENNARAH: Egypt has very deep structural problems with economics and with social justice and with political participation that will not be resolved by any of these parties.

NELSON: He predicts that given the prospects of a drawn-out struggle between the military and brotherhood, those reforms won't happen for years to come. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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