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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Transitions From Rulers To Protesters


Today, in cities across Egypt, supporters of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi filled streets and squares. They've been demanding his release from custody and his reinstatement as president. Opponents of Morsi also took to the streets, raising fears of fresh violence. NPR's Leila Fadel paid a visit to the headquarters of the pro-Morsi camp. She sent this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: This is Hall 2 of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo. The mosque is at the center of the pro-Morsi movement. Around it in this square is an encampment of tents where his supporters are sleeping, eating and protesting, demanding Morsi's return. He was the winner in Egypt's first free and fair election, they say, he is the country's legitimate leader.

In Hall 2 of the mosque where journalists gather, Egypt's former power brokers are everywhere. In one corner there's the youth minister. On the other side, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party. There are so many former kingmakers, it looks like the setting of a high-level government meeting. But now it's the headquarters of a protest movement.

In this space, the message is that Morsi's ouster was an affront to democracy and only his return will set the nation back on the right path. Outside, a cleric recites verses of the Quran. Protesters hold up signs saying where's my vote, and soldiers for Morsi, in English, French and other languages. With all the Islamist TV channels shuttered, there is no other outlet for their message.

OSAMA YASSIN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: This is Osama Yassin. Until July 3rd, he was the minister of youth in Morsi's government. Now, he is helping coordinate the protest movement.

YASSIN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: The military takeover came suddenly, he says. It's as if the referee of this game decided to just end it. But Morsi's opponents would say it wasn't so sudden. Their grievances built up over months. The ousted president was criticized for failing to fix the economy or reform the inefficient state bureaucracy. On June 30th, anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Tahrir Square and other parts of the country in numbers that rivaled those of the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

They called on the army to remove Morsi. Some of Morsi's allies say they realized a coup was coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: Mohammed (unintelligible) is a medical doctor and a secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party. There is an arrest warrant out for him and an order to freeze his assets.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: I knew it was being arranged, he says, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince the president of this. Morsi always believed that with time there could be a gradual change, he says, without revolutionary confrontation. The single biggest mistake the president made, he says, was not aggressively revamping the police force - the police force that is now cracking down on Morsi's supporters.

I asked him if he's scared to leave the square, if he spends every night here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: That's the sort of question you get from the intelligence bureau, he says, with a nervous laugh. But when I asked where the Islamists go from here, his only answer is more protests. Negotiations with the military have led nowhere. The Brotherhood won't budge from its demand for Morsi's reinstatement. In another part of Cairo on this night, Morsi's backers dance in the street, setting off fireworks and blocking traffic.

Their leaders always call for peaceful protests, but in less than two weeks, about 60 pro-Morsi demonstrators have been killed, most slain by Egypt's security forces. Morsi supporters insist the security forces are to blame, but the military-backed interim government accuses the protesters of provoking the violence. Meanwhile, a demonization campaign of the movement continues.

There are rumors in the local media about outbreaks of scabies and cholera at the protest camp and military aircraft dropped flyers this week urging the protesters to go home. Now, there are fears the military may try to force them out. If that happens, an already unstable Egypt could face even more bloodshed. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.