But if the protests maintain their momentum and numbers, it may only make opposition leaders less willing to compromise, El-Shimy said. “And I think that will just get the country bogged down in a protracted political crisis for weeks to come.”
Anticipating serious bloodshed, some politicians and clerics warned in recent days of a looming “civil war” and urged protesters from both camps to remain peaceful.
Eight people died and hundreds were injured in clashes across the country last week. Attackers also ransacked and set fire to several Muslim Brotherhood offices in the Nile Delta.
Sporadic violence erupted Sunday, but the larger protests remained calm. Three people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents in the southern city of Assiut, and one person was killed in Beni Suef, also in the south, according to Saad Zaghloul, an assistant to the minister of health. And a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said Sunday night that “thugs” had attacked its Cairo headquarters. Attackers also set Brotherhood party offices in the Nile Delta ablaze.
By Sunday night, hundreds of anti-Morsi demonstrators had also scaled an outer wall that had been erected around the presidential palace by the Republican Guard. Members of the guard, inside the palace courtyard, were barely visible between cracks in the wall. But local media reports Saturday indicated that Morsi had moved to a safer presidential residence.
The police, once a symbol of Mubarak’s repressive tactics, remained conspicuously absent from the streets around the presidential palace and the Brotherhood headquarters. Some in the police have publicly refused to protect Morsi and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a news conference last month, a spokesman for the nation’s police association said the police would not provide protection “for any party or political headquarters,” in a clear message to the Brotherhood.
In some areas of Cairo on Sunday, uniformed officers joined the protesters.
“I reject Morsi. I want him to leave,” said Hussein Ahmed Ibrahim, a police major, who stood on a corner with other officers near the palace, waving a red card that read “Leave” toward the supportive passersby who honked their car horns.
“I’ll protect the protesters, but I won’t protect the palace,” he said. “We’re all like this,” he added of the police. “And the army has the same position.”
Egypt’s military has deployed in limited areas across the country to protect government infrastructure, including the central bank and the nation’s biggest moneymaker, the Suez Canal. But soldiers were nowhere to be seen in the vicinity of Sunday’s protests, despite calls from the opposition for the military to intervene to force Morsi out.
A cacophony of cheers and air horns erupted from the anti-
government protests in Tahrir Square and near the palace Sunday, as military helicopters periodically flew overhead.
“It’s a message of friendship from the army,” said Ragai Hussein, a government bureaucrat, who was rallying against Morsi from atop one of the palace’s outer walls.
“Come down, Sissi; Morsi is not our president,” others chanted, referring to the head of Egypt’s armed forces, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.
But if the military did anything Sunday, it was probably breathe a sigh of relief, said El-Shimy. The military has signaled that it does not want to return to the helm of politics, which it commanded — turbulently — in the first year and a half after Mubarak stepped down. But Sissi also said earlier this month that the army would step in if Egypt’s political crisis worsened.
“Depending on what happens over the next few days and potentially weeks, if the opposition is able to sustain the momentum, the military might be compelled to intervene by basically asking both sides to compromise,” El-Shimy said. “But if the protests start fading away, I doubt that the military will play a big role.”
Lara El Gibaly in Cairo contributed to this report.