Despite attempts to bring the two sides together, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood insists on the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. A violent crackdown on their camp would most likely end in a bloodbath.
After six weeks of continuous protests, the largest camp of demonstrating Islamists has changed: The entrance looks like that of a fortress. Countless large sandbags are piled into barricades and there are large steel barriers to ward of gunshots and other attacks. Above the entrance is the portrait of ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, together with colorful protest banners with slogans like "What happened to my vote?"
Inside, the camp is like a little town. During the day there are tens of thousands living in makeshift tents. There's a bakery, a butcher and a press center has been established in a mosque. It's here were most of the high functionaries of the Islamists are; one of them is Ayman Abdel Ghani.
He is a member of the presidium of the Freedom and Justice party of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the several international attempts at mediation he sticks with the official stance of the Brotherhood: "We welcome every serious initiative by the EU and others. But it should be based on three things: The reinstatement of the president, the parliament and the reinstatement of the constitution."
"The army doesn't want to talk"
Some observers have said the leadership of the Brotherhood doesn't actually expect Morsi will return to govern and that it is ready to discuss some other form of compromise. But a large majority of the protesters still say that Morsi's return is not up for negotiation. They would continue to protest, said Naima, who works in the bakery. Once they'd stop protesting, another woman added, the security forces would arrest or even kill them.
In fact, the waves of arrests and the military's and police's violence in the past weeks have done little to allay those fears. But there are a handful of protesters willing to speak about compromise.
Mohammed, a student, said he doesn't think much of the insistence on Morsi's reinstatement but rather would also accept a solution without insisting on that demand: "There would be solution if the military would reach out to negotiate with us. But the army doesn't want to talk with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. They use the situation to get rid of all their enemies, and that's what they see us as."
Not ready for compromise
Included among those perceived enemies are not only the Islamist parties but also the more liberal groups that have criticized the aggressive crackdown by the authorities. State apparatus and media have created a climate where criticism of the military and police's behavior leads to immediately being rubberstamped as Islamist.
Mohammed attributed the stubbornness of many of the protesters mostly to their leaders, saying that most of those in the camp would simply listen to the Muslim Brotherhood, adding that he believes most people would clear the camp if the Brotherhood would reach a compromise with the military - with or without a return of Morsi to the president's office.
For Mohammed, the military first though would need to show its good will by, for instance releasing jailed Islamists.
But the protesters still don't admit to any mistakes on Morsi's part. For 60-year-old Mahmoud, "Morsi is a good person. He had good intentions. His biggest mistake was that he wasn't fast enough in cleaning the judiciary, police and media from members of the old regime."
Fears of a bloodbath
Yet Morsi had tried to grab power from the judiciary while still using the security apparatus and judges to silence his critics. Human rights groups have criticized that many of the laws passed under the Islamists were no less authoritarian than those enacted by ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
Protesters said they would continue protesting even if the army moved to disperse them. "Should they try to clear the camp, we will move to a different place and protest there. We'll go home but come back, to other places, in order to voice our demands," Mahmoud said.
But an escalation like this would likely lead to a bloodbath. The camp is not only heavily fortified but many here have for long already tied their cause to the struggle for Islam. In one of the tents, some 40 demonstrators are listening to a talk on martyrdom. "The best what Allah can give to someone is to make him a martyr. It is the only way get free from your sins. If you're hit by a bullet, you'll enter paradise."