The Egyptian Opposition's Deal with the Devil

Letter from Cairo

A protester in Egypt's Tahrir Square holds a sign demanding that Morsi resign.
A protester in Egypt's Tahrir Square holds a sign demanding that Morsi resign. (Suhaib Salem / Courtesy Reuters)

Falafel shops in Cairo bore pictures of President Mohamed Morsi with a large red X drawn across his face. New Mercedes and beat-up 1970s Ladas drove across the city’s packed streets with red signs in their windows calling on Egyptians to “Go down to the street on June 30!” In metro stations and on street corners, anti-Morsi activists gathered signatures for the Tamarod or “Rebel” campaign, which claimed to collect 22 million signatures calling for Morsi’s resignation. On Sunday, as millions across Egypt reportedly spilled into streets chanting “Leave,” the country seemed to say, in unison: Morsi has to go, and the Muslim Brotherhood can’t be trusted. 

Despite anticipation of widespread violence -- the words “civil war” recently entered popular discourse -- the protests remained largely peaceful and unified. Late evening attacks on the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo, which killed five people, tarnished an otherwise peaceful outpouring of discontent in the capital. “The first time we came down to demand bread, freedom, and social justice,” said Nasser Ibrahim el-Sabie, a middle-aged demonstrator in Tahrir Square. “Today we came down to save Egypt.”

For the 17 months that the military ruled Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, five sets of players competed and cooperated in a transition process that had few rules: Islamists; revolutionaries in the streets; the military; the so-called feloul, or remnants of the former regime who opposed the revolution and want to reinstate the old order; and a silent majority. There are still lines drawn around each of those camps, but after one year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, a deeper line has been drawn between the Islamists and everyone else.

In that sense, the military’s ultimatum that it would intervene and impose its “own road map for the future” if Morsi does not act within 48 hours was not shocking -- nor even upsetting for many who oppose the president. Even before the protests began, opposition figures viewed the military as the critical player that could force Morsi from office and the supporters of the former regime as an important constituency to rally in their fight against the Muslim Brotherhood. With so many different voices united around a single enemy, the protests resemble not so much formal politics, but the initial, successful mobilization against the Mubarak regime in January 2011.


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