Middle East

Egyptian families torn apart by political divide

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Media captionThe BBC's Aleem Maqbool meets a father who supports the jailing of his son for insulting President Morsi

As supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi clash on the streets of Cairo, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool meets a family torn apart by the conflict.

Saad Douma, 58, has been a member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood for 35 years. He is a head teacher and as loyal a supporter as you can get of President Morsi.

"Dr Morsi, through his quietness and the wisdom, will steer us through these troubled times and bring the politicians together," he says.

Mr Douma feels that way in spite of what has happened to his own son.

Ahmed Douma, 23, is an opposition activist. The authorities have punished him on the grounds that he insulted the president on a talk show.

Image caption Saad Douma says his son, Ahmed was too outspoken when he criticised the president

Referring to the deaths of protesters at anti-government rallies, Ahmed called Mohammed Morsi a murderer who had escaped justice. It was enough to have him sent to prison.

Saad Douma says he does not blame the president at all for his son's continued incarceration. Instead, he says Ahmed went too far in his criticism.

"The disagreement between us, about his ideological views, is partly because he's too outspoken," he says.

"His words go beyond the limit of our traditions and what's acceptable."

However, Mr Douma told us he thought about his son all the time.

"Only when I visit Ahmed am I sure he's ok," he says. "But when it is time to leave him, behind bars, without his freedoms, it hurts me."

In a rural area, like Beheira in Egypt's Delta region where the Doumas are from, tradition matters and people are far more likely to be conservative and to support President Morsi. That is particularly true for older generations.

In Cairo though, we meet a younger member of the Douma family. Ahmed's wife, Nourhan.

With her husband in jail, she has taken up his cause against the Muslim Brotherhood and the way it has governed the country.

We find her among opposition protesters gathered in a conference hall, chanting anti-Morsi slogans.

They are also planning huge demonstrations to coincide with the end of Mohammed Morsi's first full year in office on 30 June.

"The Brotherhood is trying to polarise people, and Egyptians know it," says Nourhan.

But she acknowledges that politics has managed to tear apart her family.

"It caused more and more problems between Ahmed and his parents," she says.

"We do still manage to meet, and even go on visits to the prison together, but we still have to avoid talking politics or watching the news together to make sure there are no controversial discussions."

'He deceived us'

Of course, the splits in the Douma family are being reflected across Egyptian society.

Back in Beheira at a busy village junction, we asked a group of people if they were in favour of this weekend's countrywide protests against the president, or not.

"The only way out is to take to the streets on 30 June because we haven't seen anything of what the president promised - he deceived us," said Islam Shahin, 29.

Image caption Many Egyptians are calling for President Morsi to stand down, but others strongly disagree

"He only cares for himself and the Brotherhood."

But Eid el Sherif, 40, had a very different view.

"They don't give President Morsi a chance," he told us.

"Whenever he takes a step forward, they make him go 20 steps back. People should wait until Dr Morsi's term in office comes to an end, after the four years, then judge him."

With that, the discussion became more aggressive. Raised voices, animated hand gestures, entrenched views quickly exposed.

It is sometimes difficult for Egyptians to see how their society will ever be united again. The coming days are likely to make it even harder.

But in meeting Saad Douma, I got an undeniable sense that in spite of their very different opinions about the president, he had a great deal of pride in his son, Ahmed.

When he talked of his son's childhood, Mr Douma beamed as he spoke of Ahmed's ability to stand up for what he believed in.

And in meeting Ahmed's wife, Nourhan, it was clear that whatever her feelings about the Muslim Brotherhood, she had utmost respect for her father-in-law.

Both told me they felt the splits in their family and in Egypt were temporary and that the spirit of the Egyptian people would ultimately bind their country together.

But if there are more deaths and injuries in clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters - as are expected in coming days given the dangerous rhetoric there has been - other Egyptians will be less sure the divisions can be healed.