Sarah Lynch , Special for USA TODAY
CAIRO - Crowds swelled in Tahrir Square on Sunday, the first anniversary of President Mohammed Morsi's inauguration, to demand that the president resign and call for an early presidential election.
"I want my country back," said Dua Badrawy, who came to the square from Giza, a neighborhood that is home to Egypt's most prized pyramids. "We are all Egyptians, and we want a real democracy."
Protesters converged on Tahrir Square while others marched to the presidential palace. There, crowds are expected to mushroom throughout the evening, showing the severity of widespread discontent and bolstering prospects of more instability one year after the country's first democratic election.
"We are remembering Jan. 25," said protester Suzan Ali about the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 in the same place where she rallied Sunday. "It's the same spirit, the same power, to remove again the fascist regime."
As they kicked off, protests in Tahrir remained peaceful throughout the afternoon despite the absence of police or official security. The square rumbled with booms of beating drums, blaring horns and chants of "go out" and "second revolution!" Flags filled the square, children wore face paint in the color of the Egyptian flag, and the air was filled with scents of roasting corn, making the place feel like a festival.
STORY: Little improved in Morsi's first year
Much of the rest of the city Sunday morning was quiet and calm - an incredibly unusual way to start the workweek in the country's capital, where congestion is endless.
Meanwhile, pro-Morsi protesters gathered outside a Cairo mosque to show their support for the president, who has given no indication he will step down and is holding tight to his position.
Tension between pro and anti-Morsi political camps has seethed over the past week, leading to several deaths during clashes between demonstrators. American college student, Andrew Pochter, 21, was among those killed, stabbed in the chest by a protester while watching demonstrations in the northern city of Alexandria.
Some expect more violence and unrest in the coming hours or days, which could lead to heightened political upheaval. Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned last week that the military could intervene to prevent Egypt from entering a "dark tunnel."
"Al-Sisi has certainly thrown a wild card into the mix," said Tarek Radwan, associate director for research at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, in Washington, D.C.
There could just be limited pockets of violence across the country that the police can contain, Radwan said, but "more likely is an escalation of that violence, beyond just limited clashes, which could... require the army to come out and control the streets."
On Sunday, demonstrators cheered wildly in Tahrir as Apache helicopters flew overhead.
"The army and the people are one hand!" crowds chanted to show police and military unity as they did after the military took control of Egypt's streets during the uprising that ousted Mubarak.
Some said they wouldn't mind if the military intervenes, should there be uncontrollable unrest, then governs for an interim period.
"We love the army," said Bishou Assem, 25, with an Egyptian flag draped over his shoulders. "The Egyptian people love the army."
Protest organizers have campaigned for months to show widespread disapproval of the president through a petition campaign called the Tamarod - or rebel - movement.
They believe Morsi has lost legitimacy and is not qualified to govern the country.
Campaigners say they collected 22 million signatures that demonstrate a vote of no confidence in the Egyptian president and show disapproval of Morsi for failing to achieve the 2011 revolution's goals: freedom, social justice and dignity.
Conversely, Morsi's political camp champions what they view as a number of achievements, although Morsi admitted to some mistakes in a recent televised speech. His political bloc asserts the Islamist president has a legitimate right to rule because he was democratically elected.
A campaign has also been launched in support of the president. The political wing of Gemaa Islamiya - a United States-designated terrorist group that renounced violence a decade ago - started the Tagarod movement to demand that Morsi finish the rest of his term.
Amid deepening political divisions, Sunday's protests have been driven by aggravation over a deteriorating economic and political situation and belief that Morsi - who rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood - only wants to serve his political backers and is putting new faces on an old system of governing that is no different from Mubarak's era.
The new government has been unable to boost tourism and foreign investment. Unemployment is on the rise. Citizens face fuel shortages, food price hikes, perpetual power cuts and an ineffective security network.
"I can't see a family that actually feels we are a lot better off than before," said Ziad Akl, senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
As the state has declined, Morsi's approval rating dropped precipitously over the past 12 months, from a high of 79% last fall to 32% in June, according to the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research.
"The people want the fall of the regime!" protesters yelled Sunday afternoon as they marched toward Tahrir Square, many hoping the mass protests will change the course of their nation's history.
In an interview published Sunday in The Guardian, Morsi - who has three years left in his term - said he had no plans to meet the protesters' demand for an early presidential election.
"If we changed someone in office who (was elected) according to constitutional legitimacy - well, there will (be) people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down," Morsi told the British daily.
"There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy," he said.
Morsi had called for national reconciliation talks in a Wednesday speech but offered no specifics. Opposition leaders dismissed the call as cosmetics.
Asked by The Guardian whether he was confident that the army would not intervene if the country becomes ungovernable, Morsi replied, "Very."
Contributing: Associated Press
USA TODAY, AP