CAIRO: As the streets once again fill with protesters eager to oust the president and Islamists determined to keep him in power, Egyptians are preparing for the worst: days or weeks of urban chaos that could turn their neighborhoods into battlegrounds.
Households already beset by power cuts, fuel shortages and rising prices are stocking up on goods in case the demonstrations drag on. Businesses near protest sites are closing until crowds subside. Fences, barricades and walls are going up near homes and key buildings. And local communities are organizing citizen patrols in case security breaks down.
For yet another time since President Mohammed Morsi took office last year, his palace in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis neighborhood is set to become the focus for popular frustration with his rule. Some protests outside the capital have already turned deadly, and weapons — including firearms — have been circulating more openly than in the past.
“We’re worried like all Egyptians that a huge crowd will come, and it will get bloody,” said Magdy Ezz, owner of a menswear shop across from the walled complex, a blend of Middle Eastern and neoclassical architecture. Besides ordinary roll-down storm shutters, storefronts on the street are sealed off with steel panels.
“We just hope it will be peaceful. But it could be a second revolution,” he said. “If it lasts, we’ll have to keep the store closed. But it’s not like business has been booming here anyway, especially since the problems last year.”
Last winter, the area saw some of Cairo’s deadliest street violence since Egypt’s 2011 uprising, with Islamists attacking a sit-in, anarchists throwing gasoline bombs, and police savagely beating protesters.
Morsi’s opponents aim to bring out massive crowds starting today, saying the country is fed up with Islamist misrule that has left the economy floundering and security in shambles. They say they have collected 22 million signatures — compared to around 13 million voters who elected Morsi — calling for him to step down, and they hope the turnout will push him to do just that.
Morsi’s Islamist allies say they will defend the mandate of the country’s first freely elected president, some with their “souls and blood” if necessary, while hard-liners have vowed to “smash” the protests.
Both camps say they intend to be peaceful, but demonstrations could rapidly descend into violence — especially if the two sides meet.
Already, clashes across a string of cities north of Cairo over the past week have left eight people dead.
Adding to the tension, eight lawmakers from the country’s interim legislature announced their resignation Saturday to protest Morsi’s policies. The 270-seat chamber was elected early last year by less than 10 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters, and is dominated by Islamists who support Morsi.
A legal adviser to Morsi also announced his resignation late Saturday in protest of what he said was Morsi’s insult of judges in his latest speech.
With a sense of doom hanging over the country, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi last Sunday gave the president and his opponents a week to reach a compromise and warned that the military would intervene to prevent the nation from entering a “dark tunnel.”
Morsi had called for national reconciliation talks but offered no specifics. Opposition leaders dismissed the call as cosmetics.