Millions of Egyptians participated in protests all over the country on the first anniversary of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration this past weekend, including in areas where his Muslim Brotherhood has traditionally had strong support. Morsi’s increasingly authoritarian style of government, worsening economic conditions since he assumed office and Islamist power grabs, rising fears of an Iran-type Egyptian theocracy have fueled the historic protests. In fact, more demonstrators have poured into the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation than came out during the final days of the uprising that led to former President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011.
Although the protests have been largely peaceful, they were marred by some violence. At least 16 people were killed, including an American, and more than 780 were wounded during the last several days. Protesters have also ransacked and set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in Cairo and elsewhere in the country.
“Egypt,” the government-run newspaper Al-Akhbar said, “is on the brink of a volcano.”
To avoid anarchy and a collapse of Egyptian society into civil war like Syria, the Egyptian military has issued a stern warning to the Morsi regime. In a statement, read over state television on July 1st, the military presented Morsi with a stark choice – relent to the people’s will or face military intervention. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian military, said that the armed forces would move ahead to impose its “own road map for the future” if Morsi does not pay heed within 48 hours to the “unprecedented” expression of anger in the streets against his regime. It did not expressly call for Morsi to immediately resign, although that appears to be the principal unifying theme of the protesters.
The problem for Morsi is that Egypt’s military has managed to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the people, many of whom would welcome its intervention to move Egypt away from the theocratic Islamist direction the Muslim Brotherhood and its fundamentalist Salafi allies are taking the country. Some protesters chanted, “The army and the people are one hand!” when they heard the military’s announcement.
The military has been careful to emphasize its temporary role, if needed, in facilitating a peaceful path to a more inclusive government. It wants to stay in general favor with the masses by re-assuring those in the opposition who worry about trading an authoritarian Muslim Brotherhood-led regime for another military dictatorship. However, to avoid a backlash from the country’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters who would feel disenfranchised if Morsi were to be forced out of power, the military’s roadmap might consist of some sort of coalition government in which Morsi would still play a role until new elections can be scheduled.
“The armed forces will not be party to the circle of politics or ruling, and the military refuses to deviate from its assigned role in the original democratic vision that flows from the will of the people,” the military’s statement said. Its roadmap would include “the participation of all the sincere national factions and trends.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is not appearing to back down just yet. “We understand it as a military coup,” one adviser to Mr. Morsi was quoted by the New York Times as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity. “What form that will take remains to be seen.” The adviser went on to say that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be expected to necessarily “take this lying down.”
Morsi, who is close to Hamas leaders, is believed by opposition members to be seeking help from the Hamas militia in order to stay in power. Shades, perhaps, of Hezbollah fighting to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.
Amidst the most serious crisis facing Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, whom President Obama strongly pressured to step down in the face of the street protests that Obama audibly supported, Obama has been conspicuous by his virtual silence on the current revolt. Shades, perhaps, of Obama’s turning his back on the dissidents in Iran in 2009 who were in the streets protesting the fraudulent “re-election” of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
With good reason, the anti-Morsi demonstrators believe that the Obama administration is standing by the Muslim Brotherhood-led government against the wishes of the people. “America and the Brotherhood have united to bring down the Egyptian people,” said Hassan Shahin, a member of the Tamarod, or “rebel,” movement.
For example, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson angered many Egyptians planning to take part in the protests when she said last week at a seminar organized by a Cairo research center:
Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical. Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs.
Patterson also reportedly asked that Copt Christians not participate in any street demonstrations against the Morsi regime, even though this religious minority has suffered more persecution while Morsi has been in power than they did during Mubarak’s rule.
George Ishaq, a prominent Egyptian Christian, expressed the anger that many of his fellow Christians must have felt against Ms. Patterson. He said on the talk show “The Issue” on Al Hayat, a popular satellite channel, that Ambassador Patterson was “an evil lady who is creating divisions. How is this any of her business? If I saw her walking down the street I would tell her, ‘shut up and mind your own business.’”
Christians are not the only minority group being persecuted in Morsi’s Islamist Egypt. Sunni Salafist fanatics attacked members of Egypt’s tiny Shiite minority late last month. Morsi did condemn the mob attacks, which led to the deaths of four Shiites. However, only a week earlier he had sat on stage with Salafist clerics and did not object to their hate-filled speeches against Shiites.
The Obama administration apparently believes that the elections alone, which brought Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood comrades to power, are sufficient to insulate them against the will of the people until the next election. While in a truly functioning democracy that would normally be true, Egypt is being run by a government that has used the elections as cover to seize all levers of power and trample on the rights of religious minorities and women.
Despite its paying lip service to protection of such rights, the Obama administration has placed no conditions to speak of on the aid it has given to the Morsi regime. Secretary of State John Kerry just released $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, for example. Despite criticizing the Islamist government from time to time for suppressing free expression and not adhering to other fundamental precepts of a genuinely pluralistic democracy, the Obama administration decided to waive any human rights conditions on its $1.3 billion of aid to Egypt. After all, the Morsi regime has been helping to smooth over some conflicts in the Middle East, the Obama administration reasoned, and building viable democratic institutions takes time.
The Morsi regime has no intention of building the foundations for real democracy any time soon. To the contrary, it has been removing them brick by brick, such as an independent judiciary and any semblance of freedom of the press or speech.
However, even if Egypt were slowly but surely becoming a truly functioning democracy where elections are not used as mere justifications to harshly suppress the Egyptian people’s freedoms, the current protests seeking Morsi’s removal from power have an apt model to follow in this country. Remember the union attempts to oust the duly elected Republican governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker through their mass (sometimes violent) protests and successful petition for a recall election? Walker won the recall election, but the people of Wisconsin – with the backing of the Obama administration – were given the opportunity to reconsider their initial choice.
In Egypt, anti-Morsi activists were reported to have gathered 15 million signatures in a drive for the people to express no-confidence against President Morsi, more than the number of votes Morsi received in last year’s presidential election. Why are mass protests and a signature drive good enough to force states like Wisconsin to hold a recall election but not good enough for Egypt to do the same? Apparently, the Obama administration and its union supporters think a popularly elected Republican in Wisconsin was so dangerous that he needed to be recalled, but not so for a popularly elected Islamist in Egypt who is turning into an autocrat.
In any event, Morsi may not have any choice but to listen to the will of the people whom he supposedly was elected to serve.
Tamarod (the “rebel” campaign) posted a demand on its official Facebook page demanding that Morsi step down within 24 hours or face strikes, massive civil disobedience and a march on the presidential palace:
The first statement of the revolution in the name of God in the name of the people in the name of revolution on behalf of more than 22 million Egyptian citizens signed a form of rebellion to withdraw confidence on behalf of the Egyptian people, announce today that Mohammed Morsi Issa ayat is no longer a legitimate President of the Republic of Egypt Arabic… it is no longer possible to accept any compromise and there is no alternative to the peaceful termination of the authority of the brothers and of the guidance office delegate Mohammed Morsi Federal Palace and call early presidential elections.
Five ministers from Morsi’s government reportedly met in secret and decided to resign, although Morsi is said to be trying to convince the ministers to stay.
Finally, as mentioned above, the Egyptian army is poised to intervene if necessary.
It will be ironic indeed if the Obama administration’s recent release of $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt ends up, against the wishes of the Obama administration, being used to free the Egyptian people from the iron grip of the Islamists seeking to convert Egypt into a theocracy.
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