The army and police maintained a formidable presence around Cairo, blocking major intersections and side streets with troops, barbed-wire barricades and armored vehicles. That kept locally organized marches from leaving their neighborhoods and merging into major gatherings.
As a result, a march by some 3,000 protesters, which appeared to be one of the largest organized in downtown Cairo, headed enthusiastically but almost aimlessly along open streets through the Mohandesin district until it dissolved in the late afternoon heat.
“We aren’t going to any specific place,” said a man who would only give his first name of Taha. “We are defending our vote.”
Many marchers held four fingers in the air for “Rabaa,” the Arabic word for “fourth,” and the name of the largest pro-Morsi sit-in site that government forces assaulted and dispersed on Aug. 14. Most of at least 638 people killed that day died in Rabaa.
Tensions, however, were high. Shoving and shouting matches erupted between pro-military and pro-Morsi worshippers as they left noon prayers at the Assad Ibn Al Furat Mosque in the city’s upper-class Dokki district.
Several hundred men and women, some leading children by their hands, gathered under a grimy overpass in the neighboring Giza district. “All Egyptians are here,” they chanted, “not just the Brotherhood.” They denounced as a “traitor” Gen. Abdel-Fateh el-Sissi, the army chief and defense minister who has emerged as Egypt’s de facto ruler.
Ahmed Mohammad, 53, an electrician who appeared to be helping to marshal the crowd but denied belonging to the Brotherhood, said the turnout wasn’t low because of fears of violence or the mass arrests that have all but decapitated the organization’s leadership.
“The main effect is the army blockades. People are coming out and mobilizing without the leadership,” he said as passing cars and trucks honked support. “I have a question for Sissi: Why don’t you remove your tanks and see how large the crowds will be?”
Mohammad Abdul Rahman, 43, an engineer who also denied being a Brotherhood member, insisted that the pro-Morsi movement would persist.
“We believe in God and we are not afraid of tanks and soldiers,” he said.
Kamel el Helbawy is a former member of the Brotherhood who speaks publicly about the often opaque organization. He said leaders who are still free have been left alone because they are too weak to organize the group, “especially in such difficult circumstances.” The Brotherhood, el Helbawy said, has lost public support.
His conclusion was bolstered by a poll released by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research. It found 67 percent of 1,395 Egyptians surveyed Aug. 19-21 were “content” with the government decision to violently break up sits-in supporting Morsi. That compared with 24 percent who were not content and 9 percent who were undecided.
For the movement to survive, el Helbawy said, the Brotherhood’s leadership needs to step forward now while the organization is in crisis.
“The leadership left the battle at the wrong time. This is the worst crackdown,” el Helbawy said. “Within 10 years, maybe they can come back again.”
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this article.