Thousands of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s opponents protested yesterday’s first anniversary of his inauguration, determined to oust him as his Islamist supporters vowed to defend his legitimacy to the end.
Jubilant protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square ahead of scheduled marches, waving red cards and Egyptian flags as patriotic songs boomed from large speakers.
Marchers were due to set off at 5pm for the Ittihadiya presidential palace, close to a neighborhood where thousands of Morsi supporters vowed to stage a counter-demonstration.
“The people want the ouster of the regime,” the opposition protesters chanted, the signature slogan of the 2011 revolt that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and brought Morsi to power.
“This is the second revolution and Tahrir is the symbol of the revolution,” said carpenter Ibrahim Hammouda, who traveled from the northern city of Damietta for the protest.
Anti-Morsi protests also began in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Menuf, Mahalla and the canal cities of Suez and Port Said, as well as in Morsi’s hometown of Zagazig.
Police and troops have deployed at key buildings nationwide, security officials said, and the health ministry said hospitals are on high alert in case of violence.
A senior security official said the Suez Canal, the vital waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, is under “maximum security.”
The streets of Cairo were unusually quiet for the first day of Egypt’s working week, with banks and most offices closed.
The grassroots movement Tamarod — Arabic for rebellion — says it has collected millions of signatures to a petition demanding Morsi’s resignation and new elections.
The week ahead of the showdown has seen eight people, including an American, killed, and scores injured as rival demonstrators took to the streets.
Morsi, previously a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, is Egypt’s first freely elected president, catapulted to power by the 2011 uprising that ended three decades of authoritarian Mubarak rule.
His opponents accuse him of betraying the revolution by concentrating power in Islamist hands and of sending the economy into free fall.
Morsi supporters say he inherited many problems from a corrupt regime, and that he should be allowed to complete his term, which ends in 2016.
Egypt’s leading opposition figure, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, urged Morsi “to listen to the people” and quit.
The army, which led a tumultuous transition after Mubarak’s ouster, has warned it will intervene if there is major unrest.
Since taking office, Morsi has battled with the judiciary, the media and the police. The economy has nosedived, investment dried up, inflation soared and the vital tourism sector battered.
On Saturday, at least eight deputies resigned from the Islamist-dominated Shura Council, in a boost for Tamarod, which says it now has 22 million signatures to its petition. The figure, which compares with the 13.2 million votes to 12.3 million by which Morsi won election last year, cannot be verified.
Morsi supporters are steadfast in defending his legitimacy.
Morsi’s opponents deny that removing him would be a “coup,” saying calls for his resignation are aimed at restoring the revolution’s cornerstones of democracy, freedom and social justice.