Egyptians are bracing for what is rapidly developing into another potential revolution, this time against a democratically elected leader, albeit an Islamist backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sunday is the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Mohammed Morsi.
But by afternoon, Egyptians in Cairo are resigned to seeing their iconic Tahrir Square once again be packed by protesting demonstrators trying to depose the nation’s government. Protest organizers said that some 22 million people have signed a petition calling for Morsi’s ouster, but there is no way to independently confirm the claim.
Morsi is blaming his opponents and his predecessor for the unrest, saying they are backed by “thugs” from the days of former President Hosni Mubarak.
U.S. President Barak Obama has called on Egyptians to engage in “dialogue,” with the American Ambassador adding more fuel to the fire by warning Egyptians that protests “don’t help the economy.”
Meanwhile the U.S. has evacuated all non-essential diplomatic personnel and their families. Protection of U.S. missions has been designated a military priority by the White House. The Benghazi debacle last year and the nightmare of prior attacks on Israeli and U.S. missions in Cairo when mob violence has spiraled out of control in the past have figured heavily into the decision.
Israel has also issued its highest travel alerts to its citizens, warning those in the country to leave while they still can, and those who have plans to travel to Egypt for any reason, not to at this time. No Israeli diplomatic personnel are in the country at this time.
The protesters are led by last year’s opposition who failed at the polls: former United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief and Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.
“We all feel we’re walking on a dead end road and that the country will collapse,” he told reporters in a statement on Saturday, calling for a mass demonstration Sunday afternoon. “All Egypt must go out tomorrow to say we want to return to the ballot box, and build the foundations of the house we will all live in.”
It’s been a long year, scarred by weeks of scattered demonstrations against the new president, with Egyptians complaining that reforms are not moving fast enough, the economy has not improved.
Unemployment is still high, and the quality of life is still abysmal for most. Poverty is wretched in many places for the population, some 80 million strong. Those that believed a new, Islamic administration could magically change those conditions in a heartbeat by toppling former President Hosni Mubarak have been bitterly disappointed. And Islamic violence against the 10 percent minority of Coptic Christians is still alive and well. Egyptians are not happier under Mohammed Morsi.
And now they’re roaring their disapproval.
Riots by thousands in the streets of Egypt last week left hundreds wounded. By Friday two were dead, including Jewish college intern Andrew Pochter, a 21-year-old American bystander who brought his camera to photograph protests in Alexandria.
A bomb killed a protester Friday in Port Said, and in the Sinai Peninsula, a police general was gunned down in an ambush on Saturday.
The Egyptian Army, meanwhile, has said it has deployed its troops to protect key strategic installations, and will step in if the violence gets out of control.
However, military leaders also said they would respect “the will of the people,” as they did when overwhelming numbers made it obvious that former President Hosni Mubarak could no longer remain in power.
It is not clear what that will mean in the week ahead.