Egyptian Islamist parties are set to begin an open-ended demonstration on Friday in support of President Mohamed Morsi, two days before planned rallies against him, highlighting the country’s deep divisions.
An alliance of Islamist parties and groups called the rallies outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City district under the slogan “legitimacy is a red line”.
Morsi’s legitimacy is at the heart of protests both for and against him.
His supporters say he derives his authority from the first free presidential election in Egypt’s history, and that the challenges he faces — corrupt and inefficient institutions, economic troubles and religious tensions — were inherited.
But his critics see him as a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, favouring Islamists in key positions and returning the country to authoritarianism.
Last week, tens of thousands of Islamists gathered in a show of strength, chanting for Morsi and Islamic law and calling the turnout proof that he enjoys mass support.
The Islamists accuse the opposition of being remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime and of seeking to sow chaos.
That accusation was repeated by Morsi in a televised speech on Wednesday, when he warned that political polarisation threatened to “paralyse” Egypt.
He pledged to look into constitutional reforms and also reached out to the opposition again for talks.
It was his latest attempt to strike up a dialogue between political factions in a country deeply split between his Islamist allies and an opposition of leftists, liberals, Christians as well as religious Muslims.
But late on Thursday, the opposition National Salvation Front coalition rejected the appeal for dialogue and called instead for an early presidential election.
Since taking office a year ago, Morsi has squared off against the judiciary, media, police and even artists.
However, he has admitted making mistakes and vowed to correct them.
But he also warned the media against misusing the freedoms the 2011 revolution has granted them.
The judiciary on Thursday prevented the owner of a television channel that hosts a hugely popular satire show from leaving Egypt.
Mohammed al-Amin, owner of CBC television, faces charges of tax evasion, and Morsi singled him out by name in Wednesday’s speech.
Egypt’s powerful army, which has been on the sidelines since Morsi’s election, warned it would intervene if violence breaks out.
It has brought in reinforcements to key cities in order to protect vital establishments in case unrest erupts, security officials said.
In Cairo, residents are withdrawing cash and stocking up on food, and many companies have said they will close on Sunday, the first day of the working week in Egypt.
Fuel shortages have seen cars queueing overnight outside petrol stations, bringing parts of the city to a standstill and adding to the tension.