Egypt’s rival political camps are set to face off today in a duel of the squares, with each trying to muster mass support for its claim to legitimacy.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, are expected to heed the call to liberals, secularists, moderate Muslims and Christians by army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi for a popular mandate to counter fundamentalist “violence and terrorism.”
The military predicts that more could turn out than at the June 30th protests which led to the ousting of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has refused to budge from its demand for Mr Morsi’s reinstatement as the price of halting protests and accepting reconciliation.
Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, could respond to its appeal for mass action to reinstate Mr Morsi. Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie urged supporters to raise the slogan of the 2011 uprising, "Freedom, unity and social justice" and reject the "military coup" as a "worse crime" than the destruction of the Kabaa in Mecca, Islam's holiest shrine. This comparison could whip up religious fervour among the Brotherhood's devout supporters.
Although the military spokesman insisted that the general’s “call was not a threat to any political group in particular” and “not an excuse to use violence,” clashes between extremists from both camps could ignite strife.
The sides are not evenly matched. According to opinion polls, the army commands the respect of 90 per cent of Egyptians while the Brotherhood’s standing has sunk to its base of about 15 per cent following Mr Morsi’s attempt to seize power last November and failure to avert economic collapse. While caretaker prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi stressed the need for peaceful protests, deposed premier Hisham Qandil pressed for the release of Brotherhood detainees, a visit by a delegation to Mr Morsi who has not been seen since July 3rd, and “avoiding rallies to “clear the air . . . and engage in negotiations.”
Tamarod (Rebel), the movement behind the rallies that toppled Mr Morsi, gave full backing to the general’s call while the ultraorthodox Salafi Nour party, a sometime Brotherhood ally, and the secular April 6th movement have denounced all protests. “The act of mobilisation and counter-mobilisation foreshadows civil war,” said Mr Nour, which supported the ousting of Mr Morsi.
April 6th, a key component of the anti-Morsi camp, argued, "Our armed forces do not need popular delegation to perform its patriotic duties" and warned against "throwing us off the national reconciliation track".
The Qatar-based Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars headed by Egyptian-born telepreacher Youssef el-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood mentor, has issued a religious ruling appealing to Egyptians to ignore the general’s call and urged “all Egyptians – people, parties, army and police – to preserve their country’s security and prevent actions leading to civil war.”
Qatar and Turkey are the sole regional backers of the Brotherhood; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have swung behind the military and the secular caretaker government. The US and EU have urged restraint and reconciliation.
Ahram Online quoted a “highly informed official source” who said “all state bodies” including the military are searching for a means to end the crisis although the Brotherhood is accused of instigating attacks in Sinai and appealing to foreign powers and fundamentalist groups to “facilitate” operations in Egypt.