Protests intensify as pressure mounts on Morsi

Cairo’s marchers are festive, already celebrating the departure of their president

A protester opposing Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi holds a sign reading, “Leave”, as he sleeps on a chair during a sit-in protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Determined marchers gather at the magic hour of five in the afternoon in the capital's diverse quarters, carrying red, white and black Egyptian flags, tooting horns, clapping together wooden clogs, beating drums, and shouting, "Erhal, Leave," to President Mohamed Morsi.

And because he has refused, the marchers are urged to stage sit-ins at their destinations and participate in a civil disobedience campaign.

The deadline for Morsi to stand down was proclaimed by the 30 June Front which called on marchers to converge on five sites across this city of 18 million: iconic Tahrir Square, the upper house of parliament, cabinet offices, Ittihadiya Palace which hosts the presidential offices, and Qobba Palace, where Morsi, ironically, has taken refuge although King Farouk in 1952 and president Hosni Mubarak 2011 were removed my military coups while residing there.

The marchers are festive, celebrating Morsi's departure as he clings to power by a fragile thread of legitimacy which, the opposition claims, has been stretched and broken by the drive of his Muslim Brotherhood to monopolise power.


On Gezira Island in the Nile, a ragged column of men and women of all ages and stations in society follows a battered red jeep deployed by 30 June to lead chants and encourage people to join the march to Tahrir Square, the cradle of the 2011 uprising. “Morsi, Morsi, you have divided us. We Egyptians are one.”

They dance to a popular song blared from speakers on the jeep, they wave to people cheering from balconies overlooking the broad avenue. Traffic halts and allows the marchers to pass. Drivers play tunes on their horns. The column meets and merges with another before turning the corner and walking across Qasr al-Nil bridge under the gaze of the statue of Egypt’s great 19th century builder, Khedive Ismail.

Official negotiator
Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has been named official transition negotiator for Egypt's broad spectrum of secular opposition parties and factions seeking to topple Morsi.

A former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei is not only an experienced negotiator but also a high-profile figure who abjures high office.

He has been tasked with helping to draw a roadmap to put the country back on the course for democracy. He was selected by the 30 June Front, which emerged from the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement that has breathed life back into disillusioned and discouraged “revolutionaries”. Their 2011 uprising toppled 30-year president Hosni Mubarak, but not before facing down counter-revolutionaries from the military and then the Brotherhood.

The Front includes ElBaradei's Constitution Party, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the April 6th movement, the Popular Current, the Movement for Change (Kefaya), and a range of other groups with different agendas but with the shared goal of ousting Morsi.

The Tamarod effort has also attracted the support of remnants of Mubarak's regime (feloul) who are widely despised and rejected as political associates by the revolutionaries. However, the feloul have both the funds and supporters required to oust the 85-year-old Brotherhood.

The opposition has drawn up a transition plan involving the dissolution of the upper house of parliament (the lower house was disbanded in June 2012), the appointment of the head of the constitutional court as interim executive, the formation of a cabinet of technocrats under an independent prime minister, and presidential elections in six months.

The ultraconservative Salafist Call Movement, and its political arm, the Noor party, which won the second-largest number of seats in parliament after the Brotherhood, can be considered half-opposition since it has refused to take part in pro-Morsi demonstrations but has proposed early presidential elections and a technocratic cabinet.

Opposition parties prefer their own transition proposals to the plan put forward by the military, which issued an ultimatum to Morsi on Monday: either share power with the opposition by today or the armed forces will impose a roadmap. Many in the secular opposition, in particular, are deeply suspicious of the military, which dominated Egypt for 60 years and obstructed the transition from Mubarak’s autocratic rule to a pluralistic, multiparty democratic system.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times