CAIRO (Reuters) - Islamist supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi refused to abandon their protest camps in Cairo on Monday and said they would fend off any police crackdown with sticks, stones and their faith.
By nightfall, though, the streets of the capital were relatively quiet as the security forces held back from any action despite warnings on Sunday that they were ready to dismantle the camps. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said every effort was being made to resolve the situation through dialogue.
In a political development, the Nour Party said it could join the assembly writing a new constitution for the country, adding Islamist support to the military’s political transition plan following its overthrow of Mursi last month.
Nour is Egypt’s second largest Islamist party after Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The crisis brought on by the removal of the Arab nation’s first freely elected president is now focused on the protest camps, where thousands of his supporters are demanding his reinstatement.
At the al-Nahda camp, centered round a traffic circle and extending down a palm tree-lined boulevard next to the Cairo zoo, the mood was solemn but not fearful.
Asked about the threat of a crackdown, Ahmed Shargawy, a 23-year-old translator, said: “They said that 15 days ago too. They always say they are going to finish it.”
A block away, half a dozen armored troop carriers and a few squads of soldiers were positioned outside a police station, but they did not look like part of a strike force ready to move.
The authorities are keen to end the protests but they held off from acting over the Eid al-Fitr holiday after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The holiday ended on Sunday.
A security source said the delay was also because crowds had swelled the camps after reports of an imminent crackdown.
Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is under pressure from hardline officers to end the sit-ins, security sources say. But Western and Arab envoys and some senior Egyptian government members have pressed the army to avoid using force.
Fahmy said the right to peaceful protest would be guaranteed. But he suggested there was a limit to the government’s patience.
“It is not reasonable for any democratic government to have to accept sit-ins where violence is being used and the security of citizens and the country is being threatened,” state news agency MENA quoted him as saying.
“RELIGION, NOT POLITICS”
One security official said the protesters would be removed gradually. Warnings would be issued and police would use water cannon and tear gas to disperse those who refused to budge.
Mursi’s defiant supporters have fortified the camps with sandbags and piles of rocks in anticipation of a crackdown.
Thousands were gathered at the biggest camp, near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in northeast Cairo. At entrances to the site, men with sticks shouted “God is greatest” to keep morale high.
“I have been here for 28 days and will stay until I die as the issue is now about religion, not politics. We want Islam, they want liberalism,” said protester Ahmed Ramadan, who quit his job in a Red Sea tourist resort to join the camp.
At al-Nahda, protesters had made slits in big steel plates to use as shields.
Abdulahmad Gawzel Ali, a 23-year-old student standing guard at the camp entrance, said: “We will stay until Mursi is back. Sisi should be in jail. We are not afraid.”
Asked if he feared an uneven contest with police, he said: “We are peaceful. We have no weapons, just rocks and sticks. If they keep shooting, we will move to a different place.”
Questioned about the women and children inside the camp, who the authorities say will be used as human shields, Ali said: “They are in the safest place in Egypt.”
Seven people were wounded at a pro-Mursi march in Cairo when rival groups threw stones and engaged in fist fights.
Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since Sisi deposed Mursi, including dozens of his supporters shot dead by security forces in two incidents.
On the political front, Nour Party agreed to join the assembly writing a new constitution, but with reservations.
The development is significant as it adds Islamist support to the military’s “road map” for new elections in nine months, and further isolates the Muslim Brotherhood.
Nour said it had reservations about the fact that the constitutional amendments would take place under an appointed interim president. It also wanted certain clauses in the constitution retained.
“But in spite of that, the party does not object to taking part in the committee of 50 to defend the right of the nation in protecting its constitution,” Nour said in a statement.
Egypt has been convulsed by political and economic turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of autocratic rule by U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak.
There is deepening alarm in the West over the course taken by Egypt, which sits astride the Suez Canal and receives $1.5 billion a year in mainly military aid from the United States.
Mursi became president in June 2012. But concerns he was seeking an Islamist autocracy and his failure to ease economic hardships led to mass rallies prompting the army to oust him.
Since then Brotherhood leaders have been jailed. Mursi is detained in an unknown location.
Additional reporting by Shadia Nasrallal and Michael Georgy; Editing by Alistair Lyon and David Evans