On the night of 3rd July, Mohamed Morsi’s guards stepped aside and allowed army commandos to seize the Egyptian president. Over a month later, the country remains caught between two alternate realities—one, the world according to supporters of General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, the other, according to the pro-Morsi protesters camped out in sweltering tented cities in central Cairo.
In the tug-of-war for legitimacy, both sides have churned out a flurry of competing claims about the true “will of the Egyptian people.” Since the end of June, depending on who you ask, hundreds of thousands, or millions, or tens of millions, have taken to Egypt’s streets for Morsi, or against Morsi. The president’s removal was a military coup, or the next phase of the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak. It was anti-democratic, or it saved democracy from the stranglehold of power-crazed Islamists. The shooting of 74 Morsi supporters on 27th July was a state-sponsored massacre, or a fight between protesters and local residents, or a legitimate action against terrorists.
For ordinary Cairenes, these two worlds centre on pro-army Tahrir Square and pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiyya and Nahda—which, for now, are defying escalating threats from the authorities to forcibly clear the sites. Behind the sandbag barricades of the Nahda sit-in in west Cairo, men carrying repurposed weedkiller spray tanks are dousing fasting protesters with cool water. A group of women are sheltering from the sun under a banner that reads “Engineers against the coup.”
“We’ve been here for 33 days, and we’ll stay until Morsi returns,” says Nourhan Fekry, a veiled secondary school teacher.
“Are you confident that is going to happen?” I ask. She tells me that for her and the friends protesting with her, the struggle to restore Morsi is fuelled by faith.
“Nothing is impossible for God,” she says. “We’re ready to make any sacrifice. We won’t leave, even if the army attacks us—we’re ready to spill our blood and die here.”
Others have a different rationale. “I’m a computer engineer, I like to deal in facts,” says 30-year-old Mohamed Ibrahim, who is spending his annual leave from work in Saudi Arabia camping at Nahda. “The army controls 40 per cent of our economy,” he says—a claim thought to be roughly accurate but impossible to verify, as under a long-standing deal confirmed by Morsi the army’s financial affairs are shielded from civilian oversight. “It’s a state within a state, with no accountability. Morsi was helpless in the face of interests that are so entrenched.”