Egypt braced for mass demonstrations
Opposition claims 15 million Egyptians have signed petition demanding Morsi steps down
Protesters demonstrate against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo. Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/The New York Times
Egypt is holding its breath for mass demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of president Mohamed Morsi’s election on Sunday, amid speculation the army might intervene in the event of large-scale civil unrest.
Opposition activists claim an unverifiable 15 million Egyptians have signed a petition demanding Morsi’s removal, and expect a significant proportion of that number to take to the streets on June 30th. There have already been outbreaks of fighting in two cities, where Mr Morsi’s still-sizeable support base has launched counter-protests. As a result, many opposition actors hope the army, who deployed armoured vehicles on Cairo’s streets on Wednesday, will be forced to intervene and facilitate a transition of power.
A senior military source said yesterday that the army did not want to intervene. But they stated that if Sunday’s protests were as widespread and prolonged as those that drove Egypt’s 2011 uprising, and if serious fighting broke out between Mr Morsi’s supporters and his opponents, then the army may regard the protests as a more legitimate representation of the people’s will than the elections that brought the president to office a year ago – and would step in to facilitate a transition of power to a technocratic caretaker government.
The eventual scale of the protests nevertheless remains uncertain, and could yet prove highly exaggerated. But some of Mr Morsi’s opponents are convinced June 30th will be as pivotal as the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
“It’s a second revolution,” claimed Ahmed Said, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the secular opposition’s largest coalition. “The semi-final was played on 25th January 2011. This is the final. I don’t know how long it will take, but Morsi’s going to go – and Egypt will never be the same after the 30th.”
But protesters may have underestimated the size of Mr Morsi’s support, as well as the lethargy of Egypt’s silent majority – many of whom may have been won over by Mr Morsi’s earthy speech to the nation on Wednesday night. Though recent polls suggested his popularity had halved since last autumn, his core following remains strong, and can mobilise just as easily as his opponents.
At least 100,000 Islamists gathered in east Cairo last Friday to recognise Mr Morsi’s democratic legitimacy – and will do so again this week. They suggest his critics put their energy into campaigning for parliamentary elections, expected to be held in the next six months.
“Democracy all over the world works in the same way,” said one of them, Sabry Roushdy, a teacher from Kafr-el- Sheikh, northern Egypt. “You come by the ballot box, and you go by the ballot box. It’s not right that a section of society should bring him down just because they don’t think he is good for the country.”
Mr Morsi himself refused to consider standing down during his 2½-hour speech on Wednesday. He apologised for some of his mistakes but mainly he focused on shoring up his own support and blamed attempts to unseat him on “enemies of Egypt”.