LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Thousands of Egyptians are gathering in Cairo today for massive planned protests a year after the election of President Mohamed Morsi. Youth groups say they want to oust him. They're calling for early elections but his many Islamist supporters reject that call. Violent clashes in recent days between the sides have claimed at least seven lives, including that of a 21-year-old American student on Friday. We're joined now by NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who is near the presidential palace in Cairo, the main gathering point of today's activities. Soraya, what is going on where you are?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, people are gathering for what is likely to be one of the largest protests, if not the largest protest, we've seen since President Morsi took office a year ago today. The atmosphere is quite festive and people seem to be anticipating that President Morsi will hear their demands.
WERTHEIMER: Soraya, I understand that some 22 million people are said to have signed a petition demanding that Mohamed Morsi step down. That sounds like something that has been organized. Who are the key players in these protests?
NELSON: Well, on the side of the people who have signed this petition, you have a movement called Rebel or Tamerod in Egyptian Arabic. And these are people who are sort of, I guess, benefiting from the absolutely dissatisfaction many Egyptians feel with the current government with us. Because of the economic issues here, you have a shortage of fuel, food costs are rising. It's just a really difficult time and they haven't seen any improvement in their lives. And the goal is something that protester Ahmed Fahti(ph), who's a banker, age 28, lays out.
AHMED FAHTI: All of Egyptian people say one thing to our - not our president - to Mohamed Morsi. You must go out from Egypt.
WERTHEIMER: Does President Morsi see this as some kind of significant groundswell building against him?
NELSON: He calls this something that's being done by Mubarak-era leftovers or by foreign agents, again, you know, that there is foreign influence. He does not accept that this is a legitimate protest movement, and he has many millions of supporters on his side as well. I mean, there are counter-protests that are going to be going on today, and those people are determined to come out and show that they are, in fact, the majority here.
WERTHEIMER: Well, there have been a lot of protests, Soraya, in the two and a half years since Hosni Mubarak left power. This one gets a lot of attention because of the planning, because it's big. But do you expect the outcome to be any different?
NELSON: Well, if you talk to the protesters, they say this is different. They say they're equating this to the sort of the days leading up to Mubarak's departure. This is what Raffat Bartonion(ph) had to say. He is an engineer and he was protesting at Tahrir Square.
RAFFAT BARTONION: He won't give in. It's like a wounded lion in the corner. If he attacks us, he loses. If he doesn't attack us, he loses. So, it could go any way. But I believe we have won.
WERTHEIMER: What about the Egyptian army, Soraya? Do you expect them to react to the protesters today?
NELSON: Well, that is the big question. The Egyptian army has said that it will step in to protect the will of the people. Both sides are interpreting it their way. President Morsi is saying that means that they will protect the democratically elected government in him. And the people on the streets say, no, that they're going to step in, that the army is going to step in and do what they do when Mubarak was ousted some two and a half years ago. So, it's a big question mark. At the moment, we are not seeing security forces and they have not gotten involved in any of the protests that have been going on leading up to this one today.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Cairo. Soraya, thank you.
NELSON: You're welcome, Linda.
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