In a scene eerily reminiscent of events a year ago in the same location, upwards of 200,000 Egyptian activists and citizen protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in an outpouring of anger and frustration over the tactics of their new leader, President Mohamed Morsi.
After the historical overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, brought about by the persistent and unremitting push-back from thousands of Egyptian citizens weary of dictatorial rule, the presidency of Muslim Brotherhood leader, Morsi, was welcomed with optimism and hope. But within what has been a relatively short period of time, that hope soured with a burgeoning sense that the country had traded one corrupt dictator for another, a feeling exacerbated by Morsi’s decree of last week expanding his power and barring court challenges to his decisions. When reaction was swift, he made assurances that the decree was of a “temporary nature,” meant to “hold accountable those responsible for corruption” in the previous regime. Per Reuters:
The decree was “not meant to concentrate powers,” but to devolve them. It aimed to avoid the politicisation (sic) of the judiciary,” the statement said.
It also aimed to “abort any attempt” to dissolve either the body writing Egypt’s constitution or the upper house of parliament, both of them dominated by Islamists allied to Morsi, the statement added.
“The presidency stresses its firm commitment to engage all political forces in the inclusive democratic dialogue to reach a common ground and bridge the gap in order to reach a national consensus on the constitution.”
This statement did little to quell the growing turbulence in the country: the Egyptian stock market tumbled after his decree announcement, top Egyptian judges condemned the action, and the citizens of the country began to feel the familiar burn of oppression, lack of transparency, and the overstepping of a leader appearing to dismiss the promise of a new kind of leadership.
By last weekend the rumbling grew louder as hundreds were reported as injured in clashes with the Brotherhood. The tipping point came on Sunday when a young boy was killed in protests just north of Cairo, the second death of these most recent uprisings, leading to a rush of enraged men and women into the Square, chanting slogans that were replicas of those shouted in 2011.
Despite the regime’s fierce denunciation of the protests with declarations that civil disobedience and strikes would be dealt with harshly – along with assertions that the decree would not be rescinded – there are indications that Morsi sees the folly of his aggression in enforcing the decree. From Reuters:
“There are signs that over the last couple of days that Morsi and the Brotherhood realized their mistake,” said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with The European Council on Foreign Relations. He said the protests were “a very clear illustration of how much of a political miscalculation this was.”
Morsi’s move provoked a rebellion by judges and has battered confidence in an economy struggling after two years of turmoil. The president still must implement unpopular measures to rein in Egypt’s crushing budget deficit – action needed to finalize a deal for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
At a time when peace and productivity are needed to propel the country forward in righting the shattered economy and rebuilding the post-Mubarak Egypt, Morsi’s move has proven counter-intuitive and, now, incendiary. As the opposing sides – for and against Morsi – faced off in the Square, throwing stones and petrol bombs at each other (injuries are up to 200, it’s been reported, along with the two deaths), even more elevated members of the community joined in the protests. Again from Reuters:
“The main demand is to withdraw the constitutional declaration (decree). This is the point,” said Amr Moussa, a former Arab League chief and presidential candidate who has joined the new opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front. The group includes several top liberal politicians.
Some scholars from the prestigious al-Azhar mosque and university joined Tuesday’s protest, showing that Mursi and his Brotherhood have alienated some more moderate Muslims. Members of Egypt’s large Christian minority also joined in.
As Syria remains turbulent and the tensions in Gaza had been in sharp focus of late, Morsi seemed positioned to take the role of moderate peace-maker in the region. Though his motivation is likely the need to remain in good graces with the United States, from whom Egypt receives much-needed financial aid, he seemed to willingly play the part of facilitator in the recent cease-fire negotiated by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. However, it was only days later that he moved forward to announce his decree, setting in motion the protests that now threaten to topple the tentative solidarity felt in the country after the Arab Spring.
As the Square remains populated with roaring crowds and the presence of an aggressive Brotherhood and Morsi supporters, injuries and deaths are likely to increase. Where this is headed remains to be seen, but according to reporters from The Globe and Mail, the outlook for a quick peace is not promising:
The Muslim Brotherhood showed few signs of backing down, instead painting the demonstrators who showed up in Tahrir as supporters of Mr. Mubarak, looking to derail the country’s revolution.
Quoting Mr. Morsi’s spokesman, the Brotherhood’s official Twitter account posted a note saying there would be “no turning back, decree is staying, those not willing to reach to a point of stability will be held accountable to God & history.”
Intransigent words with an ominous tone. Will an Arab August be far behind?
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