Cairo - Supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohammed
Morsi marched defiantly through Cairo on Monday in a new show of force after
the expiry of a government ultimatum to dismantle their huge protest camps.
Hundreds of demonstrators waving Egyptian flags and carrying
pictures of the deposed president marched through the central Cairo
neighbourhood of Ramses, as tensions rose over a threatened crackdown by the
Morsi loyalists, led by his Muslim Brotherhood movement,
have kept in place two sit-ins in the capital and have also staged almost daily
demonstrations around Egypt against the Islamist leader's 3 July ouster by the
The country's army-installed interim leaders have repeatedly
warned them to leave, even promising the Brotherhood a return to political life
for an end to the protests.
With over 250 people killed since Morsi was overthrown and
detained, authorities say they are eager to avoid more bloodshed.
The dispersal of the sit-ins will be "gradual",
with protesters given "several warnings" before police move in,
senior security officials told AFP.
"There will be a series of gradual steps. We will
announce every step along the way," an interior ministry general told AFP.
Once the siege begins, the protesters will be
"surrounded", no one will be let into the sit-ins and the protesters
will be given several warnings to leave, another security official said.
"This will last two to three days," he said.
Victory in the long run
At the main Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, dozens of men wearing
helmets and holding clubs on Monday guarded makeshift brickwall barriers.
Some in the camp acknowledged that police will eventually
break through if they want.
"We will have martyrs. It will be a high price to pay,
but there will be victory in the long run," another said.
Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, meanwhile,
announced a last-ditch effort to resolve the tense political standoff and
called for reconciliation talks between the rivals.
But Morsi loyalists have also called for new massive
protests on Tuesday after again rallying to demand his reinstatement and
condemn the army.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood official, Farid Ismail, told a
news conference: "We want to send a message to the coup leaders: the Egyptian
people insists on continuing its revolution ... And the people will insist on
turning out in all squares."
"Sisi is a traitor, Sisi is a killer," shouted
protesters who took part in a march Sunday of hundreds of women in central
Cairo, referring to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who was behind Morsi's
Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb was on Monday to
launch contacts with political factions and hopes to organise reconciliation
talks later this week, state media reported.
But the Muslim Brotherhood, which says it has not received
any invitation to dialogue, is unlikely to join talks with Tayyeb as he had sat
alongside Sisi when the army chief announced the Islamist president's
The interim leadership has drawn up a political roadmap for
Egypt's transition which provides for new elections in 2014, and it has said
the Brotherhood can take part in the transition.
A demonstrator at one sit-in said: "We are protesting
because they have thrown our votes into the rubbish bin. Morsi was elected
democratically and nothing can replace democracy."
Morsi's turbulent single year in power polarised Egyptians
and his ouster has deepened divisions.
His critics say he concentrated power in Brotherhood hands
and that under his tenure political divisions spilled out onto the streets in
deadly clashes while the economy tumbled.
On 30 June, millions took to the streets to demand Morsi's
ouster, openly calling on the army to remove him.
The interim leadership is under heavy pressure at home to
crack down on the pro-Morsi protests, and it has been pressed by the
international community to avoid bloodshed.
"I think [authorities] will go very tenderly,"
said HA Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.
"Their concern isn't domestic because public opinion is
strongly in favour of breaking up the protest. International condemnation is
what they're afraid about," he told AFP.
Senior US, EU and Arab envoys have taken turns to fly into
Cairo to try to persuade the two sides to find a peaceful way out of the
crisis, but they have all left empty-handed.