A second day of large-scale protests in Egypt caught international attention as assembled masses from across the country's ethnic and social spectrum called for President Mohammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to step down.
Tahrir Square was ground zero for Egypt's 2011 revolution that successfully forced former president Hosni Mubarak from office. Protesters returned to Tahrir Square over the weekend to express their outrage at Morsi's moves to strengthen his Islamist party, which won almost half the seats in the country's first democratic elections under the new government.
The protests, organized by the Tamarrod movement, have been largely peaceful, though as many as 16 have died in clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters over the last week, including one American.
Tamarrod represents a coalition of secular and leftist opposition groups, including some Muslims, and claims to have collected 15 million signatures for a petition calling for Morsi to step down, reports private intelligence firm Stratfor.
"Either way, the Muslim Brotherhood is becoming increasingly less popular because it is struggling to move Egypt out of a place of political gridlock," according to a Stratfor report.
Morsi faces criticism from Egyptians for moving other members of the Muslim Brotherhood into positions of power, including 11 new members of his 36-member cabinet. He also received criticism for supporting violent police clashes with protesters earlier this year in Tahrir Square, on the second anniversary of the revolt against Mubarak, and in Port Said where 40 died.
Some protesters stayed in tents overnight, where hundreds of thousands have gathered, many calling for widespread labor strikes.
The crowd includes old women in black hijabs, the traditional robes, as well as youths with crosses chanting "Christians and Muslims are one hand," reports Foreign Policy's David Kenner.
The protesters are carrying red cards – a symbol used in soccer to eject players from the game – to signify demands for Morsi's ouster. Army helicopters that flew over the crowd were met with cheers, as protesters believe they are there for protection.
AFP published a striking photo Sunday afternoon showing an Egyptian military helicopter over a crowd outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Dozens of lasers emanate from the crowd, illuminating the hovering aircraft. The picture has been retweeted more than 1,400 times as of Monday.
The military threatened to intervene on its own if the government does not reconcile within 48 hours, the BBC reported Monday. It will offer a "road map" for peace if the government continues to ignore the "will of the people."
Multiple Twitter users documented an Egyptian military fly-by involving helicopters with Egyptian flags hung below, which one called a "show of force."
President Barack Obama said Monday the potential for violence remains amid the largely peaceful crowds. Speaking on his African tour in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Obama said the U.S. is committed to democracy in Egypt, but not under any political leader.
He specifically called on the protesters to refrain from violence, particularly against women.
A blog run by the U.S. Embassy in France published a link to a Middle East Institute article on Monday.
"Egypt is in trouble. And Egypt's trouble is bad news both for Egypt and for the United States," the post read. "The United States didn't cause the uprisings that led to Mubarak's ouster, and it can't determine the success of governance in Egypt today. However, it is now time to pursue a more focused and active U.S. diplomatic engagement with Egypt than ever before. Business as usual is no longer sufficient to manage the risks Egypt faces in the near term."
Another entry from the same blog cites a report suggesting the U.S. should focus more of its foreign policy efforts on Egypt, even if that means diverting resources from Syria, or Israel and Palestine.