Islamists are widening their protests following the removal of President Mohammed Morsi, and one of their marches in Cairo came provocatively close to Tahrir Square. But the military's behavior also raises concerns.
First, their ID cards get checked, then everything happens very quickly. The guards at the checkpoint descend on two young men in blue t-shirts. A man in a black bulletproof vest grabs one of them and gives him a hefty kick. Then they are both led away.
The man in the vest claims the two youths are thugs paid by the interior ministry, a fact he recognized by the numbers on their ID cards. He is responsible for security on the Islamists' protest ground near Cairo University, which has been blocked off with barricades made from park benches, metal fencing, and other objects.
Nerves are raw and the atmosphere is extremely tense. The security arrangements are vital, says one of the guards. After former President Mohammed Morsi's second speech, he watched as the police attacked demonstrators: "Two police vehicles came up to us and started shooting tear gas at us. Immediately afterwards hired criminals started shooting with live ammo. Eighteen people were killed."
Head of Muslim Brotherhood appears
The hatred towards Morsi's enemies, who caused his fall from power, is deep. And yet the Islamist demo that took place on Friday (05.07.2013) near Cairo University was relatively small - barely 10,000 people, and the protest area around it looked ridiculously large in comparison. One speaker on stage keeps announcing great marches, but the numbers that actually take to the streets are relatively small.
Elsewhere, there is a surprise in store in the late afternoon. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badia appears on stage at a pro-Morsi rally in Nasser City on the outskirts of Cairo, despite the fact many media outlets had reported he had been arrested. Badia declared that Morsi was still his president, called on his supporters to stay peacefully on the streets and "defend every square."
Street fighting near Tahrir Square
His speech is broadcast by international news channel Al-Jazeera, while Egyptian state TV shows only the images, with no sound. Like Badia, none of the Muslim Brothers accept Morsi's dismissal, arguing that the demonstrations against him did not justify his ouster. "Demonstrations are okay," one of them says. "But there are elections. You vote and give your opinion. And if you get 50-percent plus one vote, then you have the right to do everything."
The Muslim Brothers have now widened their protests significantly. On the evening after Badia's speech, over a thousand Morsi supporters marched from Cairo University on the west bank of the Nile over a bridge into the eastern part of the city, passing almost directly by the Morsi opponents occupying Tahrir Square. Predictably enough, clashes erupted. By the end, state TV reported that there had been one death and 66 injured.
Army keeps low profile - at first
Meanwhile, the military's behavior during all this was curious. It must have kept a close eye on the Islamists' march, since helicopters were seen incessantly circling overhead. And yet the army refrained from blocking the bridge over the river - even though tanks were placed on another bridge leading to Tahrir Square to block the path for pro-Morsi demonstrators.
The police and military also left it much too late to intervene, even though troops were stationed in the area. Then at the end of the day, the army was cheered by many anti-Morsi demonstrators. It seemed as if the military consciously failed to prevent the clashes in order to damage the Muslim Brotherhood's public image and present itself as the savior.