Cairo – Tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Tahrir Square to answer calls from military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to rally against anti-army protesters he has linked to “terrorism”.
Rallies in Cairo against the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, were much larger on Friday than those held by Morsi supporters – a result Sisi was looking for with a speech on Wednesday imploring his supporters to return to the streets to support him.
There was jubilation and a sense of victory in Tahrir Square – a feeling that has been palbable there ever since protests began there against Morsi on June 30.
“This [El-Sisi’s plan] should have happened earlier,” said May Hamed, 36, an anti-Morsi protester on her way to the square. “He [Morsi] ruled us for a year and we were all at each others’ throats. Look at us now, Christians are fasting and breaking their fast with Muslims here at Tahrir Square in unison. This is the Egypt we want,” she said.
“Of course they’re terrorists,” said Sameh Mansour, a 36-year-old accountant, said of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who supported Morsi.
“Sinai is burning up since his removal as his terrorist supporters retaliate against the army, against Egypt,” he added – a reference to attacks in the desert area near the border with Israel. “There was no way we would’ve let El-Sisi’s call go unanswered.”
Demonstrators in Tahrir danced to national songs, and carried signs reading “We mandate our army and police forces to terminate terrorism”. Posters of El-Sisi were everywhere in Tahrir.
But a small number of Egyptians are sick of both the military and the Brotherhood. While supporters of the two largest political coalitions massed in separate rallies, others tried to forge a third path.
In rallies far smaller than either of the major demonstrations, several dozen gathered at Sphinx Square to express their rejection of the army and Morsi.
“Down with all those who betrayed: The army and the Brotherhood,” read their signs.
“We know we’re a few in an extremely polarised nation, but one day we will be heard,” said 24-year-old engineer Kareem Mohamed who took part in that protest.
“We’re here because we want it to be heard: we did join the June 30 protests to bring back the army to power, and we most certainly don’t want the return of Mubarak’s state security regime. What we want are the goals of the January 25 2011 protests,” he said.