Protesters turn out to Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday morning (Photo: Mohamed Adel)
Thousands of anti-government protesters have started to flock to Egypt's iconic Tahrir Square in Cairo early Sunday morning - the first day of planned nationwide rallies and protest marches aimed at unseating Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
Carrying a 70 metre Egyptian flag, protesters roam the square, the seat of the 2011 popular revolt that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak, chanting anti-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Morsi slogans.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party catapulted Mohamed Morsi into the presidency last year and has since been seen as the ruling party.
Dozens of volunteers set up checkpoints on the side streets that open to Tahrir Square to search anyone wanting to enter so as to ensure security. Protesters vowed to camp out at Tahrir Square and major squares in governorates across Egypt until Morsi leaves.
Cairo streets, usually known for standstill jams, is virtually traffic-free Sunday morning, since some people stayed home from work to avoid the expected turbulence, others took the day off to take part in the protests.
In a densely populated Cairo suburb, Nasr City, President Morsi's Islamist backers have been camped out for the third consecutive day to defend the "legitimacy of the president."
Also in Nasr City, tens of anti-government demonstrators settled outside the defence ministry chanting pro-army slogans urging the military to assume power from the beleaguered president.
Opposition is divided principally along this line, however, as revolutionaries condemn the army for the atrocities they committed during its year and half in power immediately following Mubarak's ouster.
Nasr City is not far from the presidential palace, where for weeks anti-Morsi movements have been announcing they will hold major protests - which highlights factional rivalries and rising fears of a violent showdown in the coming days. The Brotherhood are also on alert to protect their offices, some of which have been set on fire recently or have seen clashes.
In fact, some have also been camping out for three days at the Ittihadiya palace, steeling themselves for the big protest day spearheaded by the anti-Morsi petition drive, Rebel Campaign.
So far, 60 tents have been erected, with more on the rise, according to the state news agency, MENA.
Outside of Cairo
Outside Cairo, protesters have been camping since yesterday in major squares in Suez, Port Said, Mahalla, Sharqiya, Menoufia and Egypt's second city, Alexandria.
The Rebel signature drive announced Sunday that 22 million people – almost half of Egypt's eligible voters and 9 million more than voted Morsi into office – have signed a petition calling for the president's removal.
Unrest over the past week left at least seven dead and hundreds others wounded in factional street fighting between both rival camps.
The Egyptian embassy in Australia saw the first expat protests of the day outside their doors, chanting for them to join the anti-Morsi protests. Likewise, France, Germany, Spain and the US and UK are expected to see expats protesting.
"We all feel we're walking on a dead-end road and that the country will collapse," said Mohamed ElBaradei, former IAEA director, Nobel laureate and liberal party leader in a video message supporting 30 June protests.
"All Egypt must go out tomorrow to say we want to return to the ballot box and build the foundations of the house we will all live in."
Last week, the head of Egypt's Armed Forces warned that the army would step back in if mounting frictions boil over into violent confrontation. Defence Minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, however, stressed the army will respect the "will of the people," and urged politicians to forge consensus.