Egyptians stream into streets to demand Mursi quit
Cairo, June 30, 2013
Egyptians poured onto the streets on Sunday, swelling crowds that opposition leaders hope will number into the millions by evening and persuade Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to resign.
Waving national flags, a crowd of some 200,000 had gathered by late afternoon on Cairo's Tahrir Square, seat of the 2011 uprising against Mursi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
"The people want the fall of the regime!" they chanted - this time not against an ageing dictator but against their first ever elected leader, who took office only a year ago to the day.
As the working day ended and the heat of the sun eased, more joined them on the otherwise deserted streets of the capital. Many are angry at Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, saying it has hijacked the revolution through a series of electoral victories to monopolise power and push through Islamic law.
Others are simply frustrated by the economic crisis, deepened by political deadlock, over which Mursi has presided.
In other cities, thousands of protesters also gathered. Over 100,000 were out in the centre of second city Alexandria.
Security sources said three Brotherhood offices were set on fire by demonstrators in towns in the Nile Delta - the latest in over a week of street violence in which hundreds have been hurt and several killed, including an American student.
Over 20,000 Mursi supporters also congregated in the capital, by a mosque not far from the suburban presidential palace. Mursi himself is working elsewhere. But liberal protest organisers plan a sit-in outside the palace from Sunday evening.
Thousands of anti-Mursi protesters were walking to the site.
Interviewed by a British newspaper, Mursi repeated his determination to ride out what he sees as an undemocratic attack on his electoral legitimacy. But he also offered to revise the new, Islamist-inspired constitution, saying clauses on religious authority, which fueled liberal resentment, were not his choice.
He made a similar offer last week, after the head of the army issued a strong call for politicians to compromise. But the opposition dismissed it as too little to late. They hope Mursi will resign in the face of large numbers on the streets.
Some also seem to believe the army might force the president's hand. In Cairo, demonstrators stopped to shake hands and take photographs with soldiers guarding key buildings.
While many Egyptians are angry at Mursi over the economy, many others fear that more turmoil will make life worse.
Mursi and the Brotherhood can hope protests fizzle out like previous outbursts. If they do not, some form of compromise, possibly arbitrated by the army, may be on the cards.
Both sides insist they plan no violence but accuse the other - and agents provocateurs from the old regime - of planning it.
Helicopter gunships flew over Cairo. The US-equipped army, though showing little sign of wanting power, warns it may step in if deadlocked politicians let violence slip out of control.
US President Barack Obama called for dialogue and warned trouble in the biggest Arab nation could unsettle an already turbulent Middle East. Washington has evacuated non-essential personnel and reinforced security at its diplomatic missions.
In an interview with London's Guardian newspaper, Mursi repeated accusations against what he sees as attempts by entrenched interests from the Mubarak era to foil his attempt to govern. But he dismissed the demands that he give up and resign.
If that became the norm, he said, "well, there will be people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down".
Liberal leaders say nearly half the voting population - 22 million people - has signed a petition calling for new elections, although there is no obvious challenger to Mursi.
The opposition, fractious and defeated in a series of ballots last year, hope that by putting millions on the streets they can force Mursi to relent and hand over to a technocrat administration that can organise new elections.
"We all feel we're walking on a dead-end road and that the country will collapse," said Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and now liberal party leader in his homeland. - Reuters