CAIRO – Egypt's army-backed interim government is sprucing up Cairo's famed Tahrir Square ahead of planned celebrations in honor of the military this weekend. Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi are also planning counter-rallies in the square, the center for Egypt's recent uprisings against successive leaders, raising the specter of renewed violent confrontations.
As both the military and its supporters and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group prepared their rival rallies, there was little sign of reconciliation. Europe's top diplomat Catherine Ashton was in Cairo on Wednesday to meet with Egyptian leaders, but her visit appears to be more about keeping the lines of communication open.
There are no signs of an initiative on the table that could lead to the settlement. In a continuation of a crackdown on the Brotherhood, the Cabinet formed Wednesday a committee that includes judicial and intelligence officials to review the Brotherhood's assets, the first step toward implementing a recent court order banning the group and allowing its holdings to be confiscated.
Egyptian officials insisted Ashton is not here to mediate.
Meanwhile, municipality workers planted new grass in Tahrir's central garden, and replaced bricks on sidewalks that had been torn up multiple times by different political groups over the past 2 ½ years of turmoil and used to lob at police or rival activists.
Sunday's rallies are highly symbolic. Egyptians commemorate on that day the 40th anniversary of its army's Oct. 6 crossing of the Suez Canal during the 1973 war with Israel. The war is celebrated for Egypt's initial battlefield victories over Israel in a complex operation considered a significant military achievement.
The last major demonstrations in Tahrir were part of waves of protest against Morsi and in support of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who overthrew him.
Most of the Brotherhood's leadership and thousands of activists have been arrested in the wake of a deadly crackdown on two pro-Morsi protest camps on Aug. 14, which also left hundreds dead.
Morsi's supporters have kept up street protests against the interim authorities, demanding that Morsi be reinstated and denouncing the military. Most of these however have been kept away from Tahrir, for now leaving this symbol of Egyptian popular power to the military.
The Brotherhood seems to have few options, as public opinion appears to be strongly against them.
Morsi supporters planned to use the Sunday celebrations by the army and supporters to give a new boost to their flagging protest campaign, threatening to march on Tahrir, and hiking pressure on authorities.
Supporters of the military, including Tamarod, or Rebel, the group that spearheaded the protests against Morsi, have called for their own mass rallies in Tahrir Square and at the presidential palace, calling on the security forces to prevent any attempts by the Brotherhood to spoil the day.
"We affirm that the Egyptian people are not afraid of the terrorist Brotherhood's threats (of rival rallies)," a group statement said.
A number of pro-Morsi demonstrators held a small rally in Tahrir late Tuesday night, prompting clashes with other civilians who chased them out.
Security officials have extensively prepared for the day, fearing clashes would spoil the celebrations. Armored vehicles are stationed around Tahrir itself, and officials say more deployments on the day are planned for other strategic areas.
"The Brotherhood members are trying to enter the square. They are dying to return to the square, and are fighting for it," said Emad Antar, an activist who was touring the square on Wednesday. "We as youth of the revolution will never allow them that."