Middle East

Egypt's demonstrators polarised over Morsi

Supporters of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, Cairo, 10 December 2012
Image caption Mohammed Morsi's supporters say he represents the majority - and they want the constitution passed

It is a long drive between Moqatam on the outskirts of Cairo, where the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party is located, and the presidential palace in Masr el-Gedida.

But what separates these two neighbourhoods is more than just long roads and Cairo's infamous traffic.

Making a trip is like travelling between two different countries - two places on opposite sides of Egypt's history.

In Moqatam, hundreds have gathered in support of President Mohammed Morsi and the referendum on the draft constitution.

The chants were charged with support for the president and condemnation of his opponents.

"The people are with the president!" shouted a group of young men. The chant was echoed by everyone around.

Young children held banners saying, "Yes to the constitution". Others waved Egyptian flags or Muslim Brotherhood flags.

A woman wearing a black abaya (cloak) walked over to a man waving the Muslim Brotherhood's green flag. "Just hold the Egyptian one," she told him.

"We want to tell them that Morsi is Egypt's president not just the Muslim Brotherhood's. Please understand how important this is. This is politics!" she urged him.

This politically savvy message is at the heart of the problem in Egypt at the moment.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Freedom and Justice party headquarters feel empowered and entitled to support a president they say was elected by a majority.

"Even if it's 51%, we're still a majority," one man says.

'Bye bye Morsi'

But protesters on the other side of the city, outside the presidential palace, feel that the man leading the country now is not their president, but the Muslim Brotherhood's.

"You can't just be a president for a community, you have to be a president for all," a young woman says.

Image caption Those protesting against Mohammed Morsi near the presidential palace say they are there to stay

"This is not about the constitution anymore. We want Morsi to go."

Amid the barbed wire and barricades, the young woman and her friends were looking at the palace and waving "goodbye" emphatically.

"Bye bye Morsi!" one of them said. "'Yalla' - he must go."

The banners and the graffiti on the walls of the presidential palace all had the same message. "Morsi, hold back your thugs," one said.

"Down, down with the rule of the supreme leader," said another, referring to the Brotherhood's Supreme leader (Morshid).

The mood there is reminiscent of that in Tahrir square, during the 18 days that toppled Hosni Mubarak - laid-back but defiant.

Fathers take pictures of their children with tanks and army officers.

Barbed wire and barricades stand next to plastic chairs that have been laid out as if in an outdoor cafe.

The air there smells of grilled corn on the cob and graffiti spray.

But there is a major difference.

During the 25 January revolution there was a strong sense of unity in the country. It was the people versus the Mubarak regime.

Now Egypt is as polarised as ever. It is the people versus the people.

That the biggest fear - not just the violence but the deep division in a country that is crying out for stability.

"What next?" I ask Yasmine, an anti-Morsi protester.

"We're here, we're not going away... It's us or political Islam," she replies.