CAIRO – After three weeks, some local residents have started to have enough with Islamist supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi camped out outside a Cairo mosque in their neighborhood to demand he be restored to office.
Residents are complaining that the sit-in camp is blocking the roads leading to their homes, garbage has piled up on side streets and parks have been trashed. Speeches from the stage blare late into the night in the neighborhood around Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque.
At the same time, the complaints have been sucked into Egypt's bitter polarization over the military's removal of Morsi on July 3. Anti-Islamist media have taken up the residents' backlash as evidence the country has turned against the protesters, who vow to continue their street campaign.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, has sought to show it has the backing of its neighbors, announcing that residents have been bringing the camping protesters sweets and food. The protest camp also issued a statement this past week offering nearby residents "24-hour medical, electricity, plumbing or other services."
Morsi supporters have been gathering in the broad intersection in front the mosque since just before the giant protests by millions nationwide against the president that led to his ouster began on June 30.
Now they have settled in for a seemingly permanent presence on the edge of the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City. At least a thousand people camp there in tents overnight and crowds swell at times to tens of thousands for evening rallies. Throughout the day, speakers ranging from ultraconservative clerics to Brotherhood figures to people from the crowd deliver speeches from the stage to rally the audience.
"We thought they were just having a protest for the day ... we assumed they'll leave after the revolution (Morsi's fall) but they didn't and life started becoming a tragedy," Sarah Ashraf, a 25-year-old resident, told The Associated Press.
Constant noise from fireworks and the speeches is one big issue for the residents. Another is the tone of some of the speeches, with hard-liners denouncing their opponents.
"On their stage, Christians are constantly being threatened and insulted; this is scaring us," said Ashraf, who is Christian. She said she has to wear long-sleeve shirts and more conservative clothing because otherwise she feels uncomfortable passing by the crowd, largely made up of ultraconservative Islamists, with men in long beards and many women veiled.
Sandbag walls have gone up at some parts. Fearing attack by opponents, the protesters have a "self-defense" contingent of young men with sticks and makeshift armor. Those entering or passing through the sit-in section must show IDs at protester checkpoints, and the tents are spread across sidewalks in front of building entrances. In nearby gardens and garages, protesters have put up structures of blocks and bricks as toilets.
"They took off the paving stones from the sidewalks and used them to build a wall where they stand behind with their primitive weapons," resident Mohammed Wasfy said.
"They have sticks in their hands all the day as a show of force; the youngest of them is holding a stick as long as he is," he added.
Several dozen residents held a counter-protest near the pro-Morsi encampment late Thursday, chanting "the Brotherhood is a shame on us." They held signs reading: "You are free unless you harm me."
There were no frictions between the two groups. But the protesting residents issued a statement with a list of demands and gave Morsi supporters until Saturday night to carry them out. Among the demands, move the stage, clear side streets, stop using fireworks, turn speakers off, clean the area regularly and make sure no one has weapons in their crowds.
Some residents have moved out to live elsewhere temporarily. Others stick to their homes.
"We've been trapped here for three weeks; my parents don't allow me out except to the supermarket under my house," Ebtihal Hazem, a 21-year-old business student, said over the telephone from her nearby home.
Nora Mohammed, a 30-year-old woman among the pro-Morsi protesters, insisted they were being good guests. "This street was full of garbage and the Brotherhood protesters came and cleared it," she said. "They have no right to complain. It's the military trucks that are making the problem and blocking some of the main roads."
The military is blocking at least two of the main roads leading into and out of the sit-in area.
Residents also complain that other nearby mosques are being used by protesters for shelter, sleeping and showering. "A nearby state school was also used for shelter and cooking purposes. ... It's a usual scene to see them in pajamas with towels on their shoulders," said Karim Hazem, a 21-year-old resident.
Looming over the situation is the fear of violence — by either side. More than 50 Morsi supporters were killed by troops last week amid clashes at another sit-in not far away. Other sites have seen violence between protesters and police or local residents.
"We don't feel safe anymore," Hazem said.