AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In Egypt today, rival political factions met with the nation's highest religious official. They were searching for ways to end the violence of the past week that has left some 60 people dead. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar secured pledges of non-violence, and a commitment to dialogue, from Egypt's ruling party and key opposition groups.
As we hear from NPR's Leila Fadel, this news will come as a relief to some Egyptians, who are exhausted and frustrated by the turmoil.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Karim Mohammed repairs tires at his workshop in the working-class Cairo district of Imbaba. Business is bad, he says; very bad. With violent, anti-government protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and elsewhere, taxi drivers aren't driving as much. Families are staying at home, and Karim's business is about half as much as usual.
KARIM MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: People aren't buying or selling, Karim says. But this isn't President Mohammed Morsi's fault, he says. It's because of the protests, and the general stagnation of the Egyptian state. He, like many others Egyptians, feels tired. He says he's tired of every political dispute turning into disruptive protests in the center of the city; tired of people dying; tired of rising prices; and tired of an opposition that condemns the leadership, but offers no solution.
MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: If we topple the president now, then what? he asks. Every time there's a problem we'll change the president? Why don't we just let democracy happen? he adds. Whoever wants anything should say it - but with the ballot box, not violence.
And Karim knows that the latest violence can't be good for Egypt's image abroad. When they turn on their televisions, people must think this...
MOHAMMED: Wow. Egypt is war.
FADEL: And that means less tourism, less investment, and an even worse economy; all bad things for the average Egyptian trying to make it, he says. The polarization of Egyptian society is clear. But it isn't as simple as the old refrain of Islamist versus secular. People are divided about who to blame for the volatile nature of Egypt's transition, and who is to blame for those who have been killed in the past six days. Karim's friend, Ahmed Sayed, has pretty much the same complaints. But he, instead, blames the new Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
AHMED SAYED: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: The country is a mess, he says. Yes, indeed, these protests are destroying the country. But people are angry. And why have so many been killed? he asks. If Morsi can't fix it, he needs to get out, he says. And in a country that has only so recently toppled a dictator, some people are now nostalgic for his rule. Ahmed agrees that Hosni Mubarak was better than this. Then they robbed from us, he says, but I still had money in my pockets.
(SOUNDBITE OF STREET TRAFFIC)
FADEL: Just down the road, Mohammed Abdel Salam shakes out a carpet outside his car accessory shop. If he had his way, every protester would be arrested.
MOHAMMED ABDEL SALAM: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: They're destroying the country, he says. They can't possibly be from Egypt.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
FADEL: In the heart of Cairo, shattered glass and debris cover the streets, and stinging tear gas still hangs in the air. People walk by with their faces covered.
NAGWA IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: Nagwa Ibrahim shields her face from the stinging gas, and surveys the damage. My solution, she says, is to pretend it's not happening; and we no longer watch the news on TV.
Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.