Middle East

Egypt violence: Voices from a divided Cairo

Egyptian protesters chant anti Muslim Brotherhood slogans outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012
Image caption Egyptians are increasingly divided between those who support and those who oppose President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood

Hundreds of President Mohammed Morsi's supporters spent the night in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday.

At around 13:30 local time (11:30 GMT) their mobile phones started to ring almost all at once.

Orders came through from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood - to which Mr Morsi belongs - to clear the area for the Presidential Guard, a branch of the military whose official responsibility is to protect the president and presidential buildings.

It took only 15 minutes for the crowd to clear the huge area around the palace, a testament to the extremely organised nature of the Islamic movement.

As they left they seemed to be content with the way things have gone.

Battle lines

True, it was a bloody night, which saw them clash for hours with the president's opponents. Many of them were injured and a few killed in the process, but at the end they felt they had won this battle.

They managed to get their opponents away from the presidential palace where they had been staging a sit-in since Tuesday, and successfully fought off their attempts to win back this strip of land afterwards.

"I support the president's constitutional declaration because it was the only way to abort attempts to sabotage the country," said Amr Subhi, 41, as he left the area for the Presidential Guard to take over.

Referring to the controversial decree issued by Mr Morsi which exempts presidential decisions from judicial review, Mr Subhi said he did not trust the judges.

"The judiciary is politicised and they take their decisions according to a political agenda, not in accordance with law," he said.

He said he believed President Morsi's claim that the decree was issued to prevent a conspiracy within the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the upper chamber of parliament and the committee drafting the new constitution, both of which are bodies controlled by the Islamists.

As the Brotherhood supporters left, soldiers were busy setting up barbed wire barriers to seal off the area around the palace.

On the other side of the fence a small crowd gathered chanting anti-Morsi slogans. As long as they did not attempt to cross the barrier, the Presidential Guard was happy to leave them alone.

'Learning process'

Among those protesting was Atef Abdel Dayyim, 25, who came all the way from the Upper Egypt town of Beni Sweif two days ago to join the opposition's rally heading to the Presidential Palace.

He was lightly injured in yesterday's clashes when his leg was hit by a stone. "We didn't get rid of one dictator just to get another one. Morsi is [former President Husni] Mubarak with a beard".

Image caption Five people were killed in the clashes and 644 injured

So does he want to overthrow the president? "Yes. At the beginning I only wanted him to cancel his [constitutional] declaration, but after the blood [that was spilled] yesterday, I don't accept him as a president".

Looking in bemusement at the crowd stood Mohammed Gomaa, 43, who works as a translator in a nearby office.

"I'm just here to watch," he said, "I don't belong to either camps". Mr Gomaa, whose brother Ahmed was shot and killed by security forces during the January 2011 uprising, holds no respect for leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood or their opponents in the anti-Islamist camp.

"They're all just fighting because they want a slice of the cake, they're not concerned with what's best for the country".

So does he regret taking part in the uprising that overthrew Mubarak? "Not in a million years," he shoots back.

Pointing at the angry crowd he says: "This is all part of a learning process. We're learning how to live in freedom."