'We are prepared to die' – life in Cairo’s Islamist tent city

Muslim Brotherhood supporters refuse to leave protest camps despite threats

Cairo

On a long, straight stretch of Nasr Road, the 12-lane highway leading towards the Islamist tent city in eastern Cairo, the streets are still stained with the blood of dozens of Islamist protesters.

Many of them perished during the massacre carried out by Egypt’s security forces last month. Like other areas of Cairo, their memories are kept alive by those who have grown more determined through death.

“We are prepared to die for our cause,” said 31-year-old Ahmed Sharkawy as he stood next to one of the dozens of makeshift memorials which now dot the asphalt along the highway. “We won’t leave the sit-in. If they come to clear us out using tanks, we will lie beneath the wheels.”

For the past six weeks, supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi have been camped out in their massive tent cities on the streets of the Egyptian capital. They continue to demand the return of their ousted leader – something which has been rejected outright by their political opponents.

Following weekend reports that the security services were preparing to launch an operation to clear the sit-ins, speculation was rife that a crackdown may be imminent.

By yesterday evening, the expected operation – which has been hinted at by anonymous security sources quoted by the local press and international news organisations – had still not begun.

But many of the demonstrators who remain camped out yesterday appeared increasingly defiant when they spoke to The Independent.

“The army are traitors,” said Said Hanif, a 48-year-old engineer, as he made his way to the east Cairo encampment with his wife.

In reference to the belief among pro-Morsi supporters that last month’s popular coup represented an illegitimate power grab by the military, he said that Egypt “belongs to the people, it doesn’t belong to the army”.

The pro-Morsi sit-ins have become a nasty thorn in the side of Egypt’s political powerbrokers.

In the east Cairo suburb of Nasr City – where the largest of the two main protest sites has sprung up – an enormous encampment sprawls for half a mile in all directions from a crossroads near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. Moreover, despite its appearance of a unified, homogenous whole, varying threads of Islamist allegiance have taken root. The Muslim Brotherhood may form the most influential block, but other groups have staked a claim. The fundamentalist Al-Asala Party has its own tent headquarters, as does Gamaa Islamiya, the group which once waged a campaign of terror against the Egyptian state.

It poses a tricky quandary for Egypt’s rulers. Either they can allow the country’s refusenik Islamists to continue their sit-in, or they can break it up by force. The first option, while less confrontational, would leave a looming, ever-present shadow lingering over the whole transition process.

But the second option could result in hundreds of deaths and a chain of dangerously unpredictable consequences.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said that efforts were being made to resolve the current impasse through negotiations. Yet he hinted that the government’s patience was wearing thin.

“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,” he said.

A detailed report in the privately-owned Al Shorouk newspaper last week suggested that the authorities were intending to “kettle” the Nasr City protest – surrounding the sit-in and attempting to apply pressure by cutting water and electricity supplies.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, a security official said protesters would be removed gradually. Tear gas and water cannons would be deployed if they failed to respond, he added.

But given the determination of many protesters, it seems unlikely that anything other than a full-scale clearance operation by hundreds of police or troops would have any affect.

“Asking us to leave is not a prospect that is grounded in reality,” said Mohamed Mahmoud, a member of Gamaa Islamiya. “If I am killed, I am sure I will become a martyr. In this case I will go to heaven.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operations and Maintenance Engineer - Solar

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum plus benefits/bonus package: The Green Recruitment C...

Sales and Maketing Director (Designate) , Watford, Hertfordshire

£60- £70K OTE £120k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major multi-million pound lan...

Graduate Web Developer

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor