Cairo • Protesters holding sticks and wearing helmets and makeshift body armor stand behind mounds of sandbags, tires and brick walls. They change guards every two hours to ensure they stay alert.
With Egypt's military-backed government signaling a crackdown is imminent, supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi are taking no chances with security at their two protest camps in Cairo.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet ordered the police to break up the sit-ins, saying they pose an "unacceptable threat" to national security.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said the order will be carried out in gradual steps according to instructions from prosecutors. "I hope they resort to reason" and leave without authorities having to move in, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Ahmed Sobaie, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, derided the Cabinet decision as "paving the way for another massacre."
"The police state is getting ready to commit more massacres against the innocent, unarmed civilians holding sit-ins for the sake of legitimacy," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf appealed to the military-led government to avoid violence.
Organizers are portraying the sit-ins outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo and a smaller one across the city near Cairo University's main campus as evidence of an enduring support base for Morsi's once-dominant Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has so far refused to cooperate with the country's interim leaders, whom it calls "traitors," or participate in a military-backed fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year. Instead it tries to keep thousands of supporters camped out in tents decorated with photos of Morsi.
Authorities have already cracked down on the organization, arresting Morsi and other senior leaders. On Wednesday, Egyptian prosecutors referred three top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to trial for allegedly inciting the killing of at least eight protesters last month outside the group's Cairo headquarters.
Security forces also have killed more than 130 protesters during clashes outside the camps on two occasions.
The overwhelming majority of the protesters echo the demands of the Brotherhood leaders still free: Reinstate Morsi, reverse all measures taken by the military, including the suspension of the disputed constitution and the disbanding of the Islamist-controlled legislature. Only if these demands are met, they insist, would they halt the two Cairo sit-ins and the demonstrations, which has attracted crowds of up to 20,000.
But privately, the Rabaah protesters acknowledge that their sit-in is their last bargaining chip in the face of a fierce onslaught by the military and loyal media that label the encampment as a hideout for terrorists. Rand Paul's bid to kill Egypt aid dies in Senate
Washington • The Senate has roundly rejected a proposal to redirect U.S. aid for Egypt into bridge-building projects in the United States. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky's amendment to next year's transportation bill would have halted the $1.5 billion in mainly military assistance the U.S. provides Egypt each year. He cited the U.S. law prohibiting aid after military coups and the need to reinvest the money in the United States. The Senate voted 86-13 against Paul's proposal Wednesday. Many Democrats and Republicans in Congress see continued aid to Egypt as critical to its stability and neighboring Israel's security. For those reasons, the Obama administration is refusing to call the Egyptian army's July 3 overthrow of Mohammed Morsi a coup.
The Associated Press