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Egypt Had Their Biggest Demonstration Since the Revolution

I went along to speak to Morsi's supporters and all the people who want him out of office.
July 1, 2013, 4:00pm

The people of Egypt are back on the anti-government warpath. Yesterday, exactly one year after President Mohammed Morsi came to power, millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding that he quit. The demonstrations were the largest the country has seen since the revolution of early 2011, and although the protests were largely peaceful, violence in enclaves across the country had left at least 14 dead by the end of the day.

In Cairo, opponents of the president flocked to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 revolution, and to the streets around the presidential palace. His supporters gathered at a sit-in at the nearby Rabea Adawiya Square, brandishing weapons and decked out in makeshift armour, vowing to intervene if the palace was attacked.

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I went down to see how things were going and have a chat with both sides.

Vastly outnumbered during yesterday's protests, members of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) say that the opposition is hell-bent on overturning the president's legitimate democratic mandate, paving the way for a military-orchestrated coup and the return of the old authoritarian order based on an elite of wealthy businessmen.

"The people chose the Islamic parties," said Wallay el-Din, a lawyer who's a member of the Freedom and Justice Party but not the Muslim Brotherhood. "The opposition is against democracy."

The movement that organised the opposition protests say they want the Supreme Constitutional Court to hold interim authority while new elections are organised. They say that Morsi has been a divisive president who's lost legitimacy after failing to keep his promise of delivering a better life to the people of Egypt.

"The businessmen, police, media, the judges – they all stop Morsi from making progress," said Hosni Mahmoud, a teacher and Brotherhood member. Like many of the president's supporters, he sees the hand of the old, self-interested elite behind every setback and failure.

Meanwhile, marches from all across Cairo were streaming to the presidential palace, chanting for Morsi to go, comparing him to former President Mubarak and, for good measure, saying lots of rude things about his mum.

So what are the protesters angry about?

Some have always hated the Brotherhood. Many claimed, without evidence, that Morsi only won due to electoral fraud. Most share a sense that the Brothers have monopolised power, ramming through a constitution with Islamist inflections and taking key posts, such as the Prosecutor General, for their supporters.

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They came to power promising to make people's lives better, but food prices are rising fast and employment is on the up. Power cuts and petrol shortages are frequent. The generation that spurred the revolution into being are now being forced to watch as they're failed by the government they fought to elect.

The last major protests against the Islamist president (in November last year) were typically a well-heeled affair, making it easy for the Brotherhood to paint those involved as a wealthy, out of touch minority. This time, it was very different, with a broad swathe of Egyptian society taking to the streets.

Fatheya Abdelkarim Hassan, pictured on the right above, joined the protests from a poor area on Cairo's outskirts. She voted for Morsi a year ago, but became disillusioned after she saw footage of the president's supporters attacking a peaceful sit-in outside the palace in November.  Her friend Fatin Mahmoud chipped in to say that the Brotherhood had given out rice and pasta in her neighbourhood before the last election – that the group were trying to "buy the poor" – but that their tactic wouldn't work any more.

A lot of people were chanting for the army to take to the streets to force Morsi from power, and began cheering as a military helicopter flew overhead. Several said they were planning to stay on the streets until the army forces Morsi from power.

Elsewhere in Cairo, the Brotherhood's headquarters was set alight and its contents looted. The police openly stated earlier this week that they would not defend any Brotherhood buildings.

But, so far, the army has stayed in its barracks and Morsi remains in power. One friend, a human rights worker who has opposed both the army and the Brotherhood since the first days of the revolution, wrote on Facebook that it felt like a "mix of ugliness and beauty, division and solidarity, excitement and exhaustion, romance and pragmatism".

One of the ugly sides of the day's events was the return of the sexual assaults that seem to accompany any big demonstration in Tahrir Square these days. This time, there were more than 40 – two of which I saw myself.

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Some commentators have been saying that Egypt is on the brink of a civil war. It isn't, quite. But there's a pretty stark division between the formal democratic processes that the 2011 revolution brought into being and the force of the popular passions that it's unleashed. The ballot box hasn't been able to satisfy those gathering in Tahrir Square, which has now led to the Egyptian military giving all political forces 48 hours to solve the ongoing problems until they "announce a new roadmap for the future".

Follow Tom on Twitter: @tom_d_

More chaos in Egypt:

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