As Islamists gathered en masse in Cairo on Friday to "Say no to violence," it became clear that the demonstration – whose participants numbered in the hundreds of thousands – was meant to bolster support for embattled President Mohamed Morsi ahead of planned demonstrations on 30 June to demand his ouster.
A signature drive, dubbed the 'Rebel' campaign, has successfully channelled anti-Morsi sentiment into its planned 30 June rallies to call for "withdrawing confidence" in the president and demand snap presidential elections.
The prospect of the looming anti-Morsi demonstrations troubled Islamist parties, prompting the Muslim Brotherhood – from which Morsi hails – to organise, in cooperation with over a dozen other Islamist parties, Friday's rally against political violence, which they believe will take place on 30 June.
"Egyptians use the language of peace. Whoever uses violence isn't part of the Egyptian people," Mohamed Mahsoub, leading member of the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, one of the Brotherhood's closest allies, declared at Friday's demonstration.
The opposition were repeatedly described as felul, or "remnants" of the ousted Mubarak regime, and accused by preachers and prominent Islamist politicians of "hiring thugs" with the aim of destabilising the country.
While the stated purpose of the Friday rally was to call for peaceful means of demonstrating – a call directed at opposition forces – it was evident that the event was also a display of strength, with speakers and protesters stressing Morsi's "democratic legitimacy" and Egypt's "Islamic" character.
Throughout the day, crowds feverishly chanted in support of the president amid waving flags bearing Quranic texts. There was a proliferation of flags bearing the words "There is no God but God; Mohamed is the Prophet of God."
"Strength, will, faith – Morsi's men are everywhere," protesters chanted in unison, asserting that the president would remain in office until 30 June 2020, after being elected to a second term.
"We elected President Morsi in free democratic elections, and we're here today to support him," protester Mohamed Fathi, an electric engineer, told Ahram Online.
Fathi believes that upcoming anti-Morsi rallies on 30 June will pass without incident, stressing that Islamic teachings prohibited the use of violence against fellow citizens.
Fathi's convictions were not shared by another protester, Mahmoud Monir, a Salafist who said he was demonstrating to uphold Islamic Law.
"We're instructed by our religion to fight whoever fights us," said Monir, while maintaining his respect for the opposition as long as it remains peaceful.
Assem Abdel-Maged, leader of the ultra-conservative Islamist group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, who received a thunderous welcome from the crowd, warned of a "purely Islamic" revolution in the event that Morsi's legitimacy was challenged.
Abdel-Maged told the crowd that the Salafist Nour Party, too, had a presence at the rally, despite earlier statements by the party that it did not plan to participate.
Leading Nour Party figure Mohamed Emara also announced his presence at Friday's rally "to support the president's legitimacy" and call for national unity.
The Nour Party is the largest Salafist group in Egypt but has fallen out with the Muslim Brotherhood over political differences. Nour, for its part, rejects calls for early presidential elections.
Al-Gama Al-Islamiya, meanwhile, has been steadfast in its support of the Muslim Brotherhood since Morsi's election as president one year ago.
'Crushing,' 'destroying' the opposition
"They said the street is the answer, so we gathered here in the millions," Tarek El-Zomor, another Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader, declared defiantly.
"They threatened us with 30 June, and today we promise them that they will be crushed on that day," El-Zomor added in reference to the opposition.
El-Zomor went on to assert – to loud cheers by the crowd – that Egyptians were either "with the president's legitimacy or with the thugs," and either "with the revolution or with former regime remnants."
Weighing in with statements against the opposition, Salafist Asala Party founder Adel Abdel-Maqsoud urged protesters to pray for "victory over the infidels" and to "defeat and destroy them," in a reference to 30 June protesters.
In a Youtube video on Thursday, popular Salafist preacher Wagdy Ghoneim said that 30 June protesters were "infidels" who must be killed. Other Islamists have portrayed the opposition as consisting mainly of members and allies of the ousted Mubarak regime.
'Rebel' campaign founders, meanwhile, say they launched the initiative because Morsi was following Mubarak's policy line. They cite Morsi's economic policies, friendly relations with the US and Israel and "dictatorial" decisions to support their assertions.
Mahmoud Badr, one of the 'Rebel' campaign's founders, said he voted for Morsi erroneously, in the hope that he would be different from Mubarak.
On Thursday, 'Rebel' campaigners announced that they had collected their target of 15 million citizens' signatures, two million more than the votes Morsi garnered in the final round of last year's presidential poll.
Morsi supporters have launched a counter-campaign, saying they had collected 13 million signatures in support of the president.