A Year After Morsi’s Election, Egypt's Opposition Wants Another Revolution

With at least five people reportedly killed in violent clashes between opponents and supporters of the president this week, tensions are high ahead of mass anti-Morsi protests planned to mark his first year in office.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Tensions have hit a high in Egypt as the country prepares for mass demonstrations against President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday, the first anniversary of his election. Opposition activists claim that more than 16 million Egyptians have signed a petition calling for him to be overthrown, and expect many to take to the streets in protest.

The last few days have seen violent clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents on Egypt's streets. On Friday morning, a man was shot dead and four were wounded in an attack on the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Zagazig, north of Cairo. The party accused Morsi’s opponents – who are calling for him to resign – for the attack. Later Friday, a health ministry official said that a man was killed by gunfire during clashes in Alexandria between Morsi's opponents and supporters. The man died near the Muslim Brotherhood's local offices in the city, which were reportedly seized by the opposition. Some 70 people were injured in the clashes, according to the state news agency MENA.

Friday's incidents raised the death toll of those killed in the disturbances over the last week to at least five, with dozens more wounded. It has also raised fears of an escalation in the violence over the coming days.

Also Friday, thousands of backers and opponents of Egypt's Islamist president held competing rallies in Cairo. In Cairo, the opposition rallied in Tahrir Square, and planned to stay their until Sunday.

Many among the opposition hope that the army – which already deployed troops and armored personnel carriers in Cairo on Wednesday – will be forced to intervene and will allow the government to be overthrown. Otherwise, they warn, large-scale riots are likely to erupt.

A June revolution?

Over the last few days, commentators and activists have speculated whether Sunday, June 30 will go down in history in the same way as January 25, 2011 - the day that the protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak first started. On Thursday, one of Egypt’s leading journalists, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, said that the feeling in the country is reminiscent of the anger felt before Mubarak’s fall from power. He also argued that the televised speech Morsi gave on Wednesday to mark his first year in office was extremely disappointing, and inflamed tensions instead of having a calming effect.

In the address, Morsi said that he refused to consider resigning. He apologized for some of his mistakes, and suggested that his opponents help reform Egypt’s controversial new constitution. However, he also blamed the “enemies of Egypt” for attempting to oust him from power and for sabotaging democracy.

Egyptian intellectuals see Morsi as someone who is led by the Muslim Brotherhood rather than a man who leads the movement. Senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood have vehemently denied this claim, and say that Morsi is an elected president who is very popular among the people, and that the opposition, aided by members of the former regime, is trying to undermine him using destructive tactics.

On Friday, the Muslim Brotherhood planned a giant demonstration in Cairo in support of Morsi with the slogan, “Attacking legitimacy is a red line.”

“The activists will stand by their right to defend themselves if they will be attacked at the demonstrations and the police and security forces won't act against disturbers of the peace,” said movement spokesman Jihad el-Haddad.

In contrast, the coordinating committees for the protests against the president continued Thursday to collect Egyptian citizens signatures calling for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government. An announcement made by the committees on Thursday, after assessing the situation in Cairo, stated that their members called on all Egyptian citizens to come out into the streets on Sunday in order to remove Morsi from his position, and also called for the appointment of the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court as acting president of Egypt for a period of transition.

In addition, the organizers of the demonstration called for parliament to be dispersed and the constitution to be annulled. They also called for the establishment of a national emergency government and a council of senior legal practitioners to formulate a new constitution for the country.

“We demand fundamental change in all areas of life in Egypt for the achievement of the real goals of the revolution and not just a change in people and jobs,” said a representative of the committees, stating that already more than 16 million people have signed the petition.

At the same time, the Egyptian army continued Thursday to deploy troops to secure sensitive locations and strategic sites in Cairo and across the country, positioning armored vehicles and personnel carriers at several spots. Military men made sure to hang posters on the vehicles with reassuring messages for the Egyptian people, such as, “The army and the people are one hand.”

A senior opposition leader described Thursday the atmosphere in the country, 48 hours before the expected demonstrations: “In Egypt, there is now a serious fuel shortage and we see people quarreling in line at gas stations. If we could transform the tension in the air into gasoline everything would work itself out. Everything here is very tense and the worry about what might happen in the coming days frightens everyone.”

“This is the second revolution,” said Ahmed Said on Thursday. Said is a leader of the National Salvation Front, a block of the largest secular political parties. “The semi-finals were on January 25, 2011 and now the finals. I don't know how long this will continue, but Morsi will be forced to go and Egypt will be entirely changed after June 30.”

Morsi opponents aren't minimizing the extent of his support and the weariness of the silent majority, which appears to have already had its fill of demonstrations and violence. Despite opinion polls showing that Morsi's popularity has shrunk to about half of what it was last fall, he still has many faithful supporters, and they can bring out demonstrators just as easily as Morsi's opponents.

Egyptian protesters shouting anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans as they hold posters depicting U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and President Morsi at a protest in Tahrir Square, June 28, 2013. Credit: AP

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