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In Egypt, Morsi backers braced for crackdown that never came

Protesters, emboldened after a rumored military crackdown didn't materialize, vow to stay in Cairo camps until ousted President Mohamed Morsi is reinstated.

August 12, 2013|By Raja Abdulrahim
  • A soldier is deployed near Cairo's Nahda Square, where supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi have set up camp to demand his reinstatement.
A soldier is deployed near Cairo's Nahda Square, where supporters… (Amr Nabil / Associated Press )

CAIRO — When the military didn't come, the protesters went to sleep.

The supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stayed up all night, expecting — based on rumors and media reports — that security forces would finally act on the interim government's vow to clear out their encampment in Nahda Square by Cairo University.

Some sang songs throughout the night to pass the time, others played pingpong. But when morning came uneventfully, the protesters finally lay down to rest.

The calm Monday at Nahda and another gathering, outside the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, has further emboldened Morsi's supporters, who are as defiant as ever. The protesters say they won't leave until the president, deposed by a military coup last month, is reinstated.

To those in the square, the decision not to storm the camp reflected the interim government's indecisiveness and fear of what many have warned could be a bloodbath, even as Morsi's detention was extended Monday for 15 more days by Egypt's judiciary.

Ahmad Abdo Shaboon, a member of the recently dissolved parliament and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said the rumors Sunday were intended to frighten Morsi supporters out of the squares.

Government officials "don't want to get themselves in a bigger problem," he said. "Militarily they are in a predicament, politically they are in a predicament and internationally they are in a predicament."

He did not expect the military or police to storm the two sites, which have been occupied for more than six weeks, and believes a negotiated deal could come soon because the government can't afford to let the crisis go on much longer.

The crowds, many said, would only continue to grow especially now that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and subsequent Eid al-Fitr celebration have ended.

Hana Fathi, an elementary school teacher in Cairo, spent Ramadan with her parents, who live five hours from the city. She had been following the unfolding events on TV, and heard the rumors of a crackdown when she returned to Cairo on Sunday.

"When I heard that they were going to clear the square, a person could hesitate or be afraid, but no, it was a motivation for me to come," she said.

She arrived at Nahda alone and soon found a women's tent where she spent the night. She said she would remain at the encampment until Morsi returned to power.

"They think these threats will rattle people, but instead it makes them stronger," she said.

Seeking a reprieve from the sun, Fatima Sayid Muhammad was sitting in the shade provided by a SpongeBob SquarePants blanket. Throughout the day she traded calls with her son and grandchildren, who are encamped near the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, comparing notes. None of them planned to leave.

"When I heard that Monday morning they were going to empty the square, I came specifically to welcome the bullets and to welcome the abuse from the military — I don't fear death," said Muhammad, who runs a small charity for orphans and widows.

"We are here not weeks, not months, but years," she said.

Shabaan Idriss was making his way first through the crowd of men and then the women, spraying everyone with a mist of water from a plastic pack he wore on his back.

"We are here for as long as it takes," he said. "We will create an entire city here; the supermarket will come soon and then the hospital will come, and we'll even start schools for our kids. And look, we have the university already here."

Down the road, toward the entrance to the encampment, men were unloading large metal rods from the back of a pickup truck. Other men were already using the rods to erect a new tent, one much sturdier than its rope-supported neighbor.

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