A few thousand gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday morning, where a festive mood reigned ahead of what is expected to be an intense day of protests.
Protesters congregated to demand the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, who has been in power for exactly one year today. The opposition has slammed Morsi’s presidency for failing to engage in serious institutional reforms and letting the economy deteriorate.
“Tahrir is how Morsi got in and it’s how he will get out,” protesters shout, with intermittent chants of the seminal “irhal” (leave), as was commonly heard during protests calling for former President Hosni Mubarak’s fall during the January 25 uprising.
Aside from the typical revolutionary demands of freedom, dignity and social justice, also reminiscent of those January 25 protests, demonstrators today expressed their concern about the collapse of the state.
“When we went down on January 25, we went down for freedom. Now it’s about the country itself — the whole country is collapsing,” says engineer Nasser al-Sebai. He adds that as people gather once again in Tahrir Square, their demand this time around is more essential.
While most protesters are anticipating a violent turn of events, they are also hopeful that the people will eventually impose their will.
Sixty-four-year-old electrician Yehia does not expect Morsi to go down without a fight. “He won’t leave today, because he knows this is the beginning of the end for the Brotherhood. He will tire us for a few days,” he says. “If he doesn’t leave peacefully, we will do whatever it takes to force him out. We’ll stay here, we’re not going anywhere.” Some tents were already spotted in what could turn into an open-ended sit-in.
But others are hoping that violent measures won’t be needed in the fight for Morsi’s ouster.
Sameh Khalifa, a 54-year-old doctor, says that he hopes Morsi acts preemptively.
“I hope that he will have respect for the people who went down, and realize that there will be bloodshed and leave,” he says.
The square is divided between those who ask for a transfer of power through civil alternatives, and those who demand a military takeover — a reflection of an overall divide within the opposition.
In the early hours of the afternoon, what appeared to be six military helicopters flew over the square. The crowd received them with welcoming cheers.
“They are sending us a message that they are with the people,” one protester shouted. Some insisted that the planes were not there to signal a potential military takeover, but just the military’s allegiance to the people.
The scene was a reminder of the early days of the revolution, when military F-16s hovered over Tahrir days before the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces forced Mubarak out of power.
Some demonstrators raised pictured of deceased President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who heralded the 1952 military coup that put an end to the British occupation.