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In Cairo, shooting, anger, and bracing for more confrontation

In Cairo, those protesting against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were faced down by his loyalists. A view from the ground.

By Gert Van LangendonckCorrespondent / December 5, 2012

Egyptian riot police stand guard during clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 5.

Mostafa Elshemy/AP



Sherif Azer, one of the original Tahrir Square activists who helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011, is matter-of-fact, as if what is happening today in Cairo was somehow inevitable.

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“We’re just waiting until enough people are here," he says. "Then we will attack. It has to be this way.”

Mr. Azer is among several hundred people gathered a block away from the presidential palace. Hours earlier, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, armed with clubs, attacked a sit-in outside the palace that started the day before at the end of a huge protest march against President Mohamed Morsi, himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood have been incredibly stupid,” says Azer. “Nobody was fighting them, nobody was questioning their legitimacy.”

Then, on Nov. 22, President Morsi issued a decree, sidelining the judicial system, and rushed through a controversial draft constitution, tapping the majority of Islamists in the constituent assembly.

“And suddenly everything has changed. They [Islamists] are not looking for dialogue anymore. It is an open confrontation now,” says Azer.

A half hour later, with enough anti-Morsi protesters having arrived, the street battle begins.

Pavement is broken up into makeshift missiles, Molotov cocktails are thrown, and fireworks are fired horizontally at the other side. At one point, a protester runs through the anti-Morsi crowd shooting in the air with a handgun. The pro-Morsi crowd appears to be firing teargas canisters, something usually reserved for the police forces.

An ugly turn

There is nothing uplifting about the mood here tonight, which seems eons away from the jubilant crowds in Tahrir on Feb. 11, 2011, the night Mubarak stepped down. Just before the fighting started, the crowd beat up a salafi passerby (a conservative Muslim), despite his protestations that he was “not with the Brotherhood.” A minivan stuck in traffic was attacked on the suspicion that it was carrying Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

If any comparisons are made with the uprising that brought down Mubarak last year, it is with the infamous “Camel Day,” when Mubarak supporters and police attacked the peaceful pro-democracy protestors in Tahrir Square.

It is mostly left unsaid that, on that day, many of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters now on the other side were fighting hand in hand with other protesters against a common enemy.

The view from two young protesters

Two young protesters sitting on the trunk of a car look defeated as they struggle to explain how they feel about what is happening today.

“We don’t want you to frame this as Egyptians fighting Egyptians,” one of them says. “We are all Egyptians here.”


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