Tens of thousands of Egyptians flood streets to demand Morsi qui - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Tens of thousands of Egyptians flood streets to demand Morsi quit

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Source: NBC Source: NBC
CAIRO, EGYPT (NBC) -

Tens of thousands of opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi flooded the streets of Cairo on Sunday ahead of competing protests that observers warn could descend into mayhem and bloodshed.

Swarms of anti-government demonstrators massed in Tahrir Square, crucible of the 2011 popular so-called "Arab Spring" uprisings that overthrew autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.

"The people want the fall of the regime!" they chanted, many waving national flags — this time not against an aging dictator but against their first ever elected leader, who took office only a year ago to the day.

At the same time, legions of Morsi's allies were assembling outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque near the Ittihadiya presidential palace, some wearing military-style regalia and carrying shields and clubs, according to The Associated Press.

Although both sides have pledged to keep the peace, observers worry that Sunday's rallies could set off a wave of ugly violence. At least seven people, including an American college student from Maryland, have been killed in clashes in the last week, with hundreds of others wounded.

The planned protests represent the peak of a year of turbulence and turmoil in which Egypt has been rocked by scores of political crises, dozens of bloody clashes and a declining economy that has set off a spate of power outages, fuel shortages, skyrocketing prices and routine lawlessness and crime.

The opposing sides of the conflict are representative of the bitter political, social, and religious divisions in contemporary Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other hard-line groups form the backbone of the pro-Morsi camp. Many of Morsi's proponents have characterized the protests as a conspiracy by Mubarak's political allies to return the former leader to power.

The anti-government movement brings together secular and liberal Egyptians, moderate Muslims and Christians, and wide swaths of the general public the opposition says has rejected the Islamists and their regime.

Liberal leaders say nearly half all Egyptian voters — some 22 million people — have signed a petition calling for new elections.

"We all feel we're walking on a dead-end road and that the country will collapse," said Mohamed El-Baradei, a former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and now liberal party leader in his homeland.

Despite mounting pressure, Morsi did not buckle in advance of the preplanned protests, dismissing the widespread dissent as an undemocratic assault on his electoral legitimacy, Reuters reported.

But he also proposed to make changes to the new, Islamist-inflected constitution, saying he was not personally responsible for controversial clauses on religious authority, which stirred up liberal animosity and triggered the popular revolt, according to Reuters.

For many Egyptians, though, all the turmoil that has followed the Arab Spring has just made life harder. Standing by his lonely barrow at an eerily quiet downtown Cairo street market, 23-year-old Zeeka was afraid more violence was coming.

"We're not for one side or the other," he told Reuters. "What's happening now in Egypt is shameful. There is no work, thugs are everywhere ... I won't go out to any protest.

"It's nothing to do with me. I'm a tomato guy."

Visiting sub-Saharan Africa, President Barack Obama has cautioned that rancor in the largest Arab country could rattle the region.

"Every party has to denounce violence," Obama said in Pretoria, South Africa, on Saturday. "We'd like to see the opposition and President Morsi engage in a more constructive conversation about how they move their country forward because nobody is benefiting from the current stalemate."

 Washington has evacuated non-essential personnel and redoubled security at its diplomatic missions in Egypt.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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