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Egyptian Protesters Display Newfound Unity


Protests in Egypt rage on, despite President Mohammed Morsi's offer in a televised speech last night to meet with his opponents. Demonstrators filled Cairo's streets again today. The opposition in Egypt is confident and they're displaying a newfound unity, something Egypt hasn't seen since the early days of the revolution that ousted Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, many question whether this unity will last beyond the ongoing political crisis.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Protestors outside the presidential palace in the Egyptian capital exude confidence as they vow to bring Morsi down.

They rejected Morsi's offer during his speech last night, to meet with his opponents at the palace tomorrow afternoon. Afterward, the protesters waved their shoes in a sign of insult to the Egyptian leader. Their determination to make Morsi capitulate is bolstered by key opposition figures who've joined together to make the most of the groundswell of opposition that is spreading across the country.

After Morsi, last month, granted himself near absolute powers and began pushing through a draft constitution drawn up by his allies, opposition figures set aside their differences. They moved swiftly to create a group called the National Salvation Front.

Karim Abdir is an official with the Free Egyptians Party that is part of the new front he says is determined to prevent the quote "death of their country."

KARIM ABDIR: It's dictatorship. Nobody has ever collected all three powers in their hands - legislative, executive and judiciary, now, and also there's going to be blackouts of TV stations and newspapers that don't toe the party line. This is worse than what we had before.

NELSON: Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is the National Salvation Front's de-facto leader.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Flanked by other opposition leaders at a recent news conference, he said they are united in heart and mind. But a closer look reveals that their newfound cooperation hasn't gone beyond calling for demonstrations. Take, for example, the upcoming referendum on the controversial constitution. With the election opening this weekend for Egyptian voters living abroad, opposition leaders are still waffling about whether to boycott the vote or try and defeat it at the ballot box.

Nathan Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

NATHAN BROWN: The opposition is able to oppose Morsi, but they're not been able to come up with any kind of program or strategy in order to confront him.

NELSON: He adds that the opposition and the Islamists may actually have more in common than they care to admit.

BROWN: You take a look at disagreements about the constitution and they're not nearly as big as you would think, from the drama, about the content of the draft. Most of the complaints of the opposition were much more about process, about how this was being written and who was writing it, than it was about what the document would say.

NELSON: The Islamists, meanwhile, have largely dismissed the unified opposition as a bunch of holdovers from the Mubarak era.

PRESIDENT MOHAMED MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The Egyptian president, in his speech, accused them of being motivated by greed rather than patriotism. He claimed some of the protestors arrested following recent violent clashes confessed to being paid and armed by people bent on destroying Egypt.

MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Still, the growing public outcry prompted Morsi to call for talks with his opponents. Whether ElBaradei and the others will accept that olive branch is unclear.

Some analysts, including Mostafa Kamel el Sayed, who teaches political science at Cairo University, predicts such concessions will weaken opposition leaders' will to cooperate with each other. So will the next election for a new Egyptian parliament, he says.

MOSTAFA KAMEL EL SAYED: The electoral competition itself would make it difficult for the opposition groups to remain united, but I hope they remain united, until we elect a new parliament.

NELSON: Even National Salvation Front official Emad Abou Ghazi appeared uncertain about whether the united opposition has a future.

EMAD ABOU GHAZI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says members have to focus on weathering the ongoing political crisis.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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