Dueling factions have spread out across Cairo for a weekend of unrest over the direction taken by the Islamist factions since their rise to power in Egypt. Supporters of Mohamed Morsi took to the streets today to pre-empt massive protests tomorrow by Morsi’s opposition, while the US warns Americans to avoid Egypt after the death of one American this week:
The CNN report mentions that the opposition collected 17 million signatures on petitions demanding new elections, from a polyglot of disaffected groups that range from pure democracy activists to Mubarak nostalgics. The Associated Press puts the number at 22 million now, nearly twice as many as the number of votes Mubarak received in the last election:
The youth group leading the campaign against Egypt’s president says it has collected the signatures of 22 million Egyptians who want to remove the Islamist leader.
Mahmoud Badr, a leader of the Tamarod, or rebel, movement said Saturday that 22,134,460 Egyptians have signed the petition demanding President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster.
There hasn’t been an audit of these signatures, but the scale of the petition underscores the deep dissatisfaction Egyptians feel with the Islamist government. The noise has settled down in Cairo for the moment, but that’s the quiet before the storm, according to the AP:
Cairo, which saw large pro- and anti-Morsi rallies on Friday, was uncharacteristically quiet Saturday despite the sit-ins as the city braced for more potentially violent opposition protests. Many residents are thought to be staying home, while some left for safer locations elsewhere in the country to avoid possible violence.
For several days, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that helped propel Morsi to power, and the president’s opponents have clashed in cities in the Nile Delta, while on Friday as least five Brotherhood offices across the country were ransacked and torched.
That has all come in the buildup toward Sunday — the anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration as Egypt’s first freely elected leader — when opposition groups promise massive demonstrations to force the Egyptian leader from office. The June 30 protesters have vowed to remain peaceful, while the military said it would intervene if violence breaks out.
Morsi’s supporters control the suburbs, but his opponents have the heart of the popular uprising in the city:
Morsi’s backers on Friday staged their second mass rally in as many weeks in a Cairo suburb where they said they would stage an indefinite sit-in to counter the protests planned by the opposition outside the nearby presidential palace.
Smaller numbers of Morsi opponents are staging a sit-in in central Cairo’s Tahrir square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak, as well as outside Morsi’s palace across town. The president has temporarily moved to another palace.
Hard-line Islamists loyal to Morsi have repeatedly vowed to “smash” the protesters, arguing that they were a front for Mubarak loyalists determined to undermine Morsi’s rule. They also say that Morsi is a freely elected president who must serve out his four-year term before he can be replaced in an election.
The US State Department, which helped create this situation by insisting on the rapid abdication of Hosni Mubarak, now wants Americans to rapidly get out of the country that had once been a stable ally of the US:
The U.S. government was warning Americans to steer clear of Egypt if possible as violence continued unabated. The State Department confirmed a 21-year-old college student — Andrew Pochter of Chevy Chase, Md. — died a day earlier while photographing battles between supporters and foes of the Islamist president. Obama said the U.S. was in direct contact with the Egyptian government about security arrangements and was planning ahead for larger protests over the weekend.
“We’re all looking at the situation there with concern,” Obama said. “Our most immediate concern with respect to protests this weekend has to do with our embassy and consulates.”
Rage in the streets as protesters stormed political offices in Egyptian cities has unnerved American diplomats, still reeling from the attack last year on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans — including the ambassador. The Obama administration appeared eager to show it was leaving nothing to chance as Cairo braced for the one-year anniversary of Morsi’s taking power as Egypt’s first freely elected leader. …
Warning of Molotov cocktails deployed by protesters and tear gas by police, the State Department urged Americans on Friday to forego all but essential travel to Egypt and moved to reduce the official U.S. presence in the country. Officials said they would allow some nonessential staff and the families of personnel at the embassy to leave the country until conditions improve.
Morsi’s opponents want him to resign, claiming that his power grab over the past year has eliminated his legitimacy, and most of them want a new election in six months. A small subset of them want the army to seize power and clean house. If the Morsi government tries “smashing” the protests tomorrow, the army could be the decisive player in this drama.