Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

When confusion reigns

Where do Islamists stand regarding the planned anti-Morsi protests on 30 June? The answer is not as simple as it might seem, writes Amira Howeidy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As support grows for protests on 30 June, the day that marks President Mohamed Morsi’s first anniversary in office, a confused Islamist bloc is gearing itself up to defend the president. A demonstration has been announced for tomorrow, purportedly to show solidarity with Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and some Salafist groups, yet also to voice demands for reform and national reconciliation. Too many messages for one demonstration? Perhaps, but it is a multiplicity of seemingly conflicting messages that characterises Egypt’s current confusion.
Friday’s demonstration is one of many attempts to counter the 30 June protests originally called for by the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign. Not that Tamarod has a monopoly on calls for early elections. They were being voiced by Islamist-leaning figures such as ex-Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh as early as March, though it is the momentum created by Tamarod, which says it has collected 15 million signatures for its petition “withdrawing confidence” from Morsi, that lends such calls urgency. But while some among the opposition see the toppling of the Morsi regime as within sight others remain committed to the original demand — early presidential elections.
Just as divisions mark the stands of the ad hoc anti-Morsi coalition — exclusionists, revolutionaries and Hosni Mubarak remnants — expected to take to the streets on 30 June, so the Islamist bloc runs the gamut from reactionary anti-opposition to restrained neutrality.
The most obvious example is Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Construction and Development Party (CDP), whose Secretary-General Alaa Abul-Nasr has publicly denounced the removal of an elected president after a year in office on principle. Yet though he has announced that his party will join tomorrow’s solidarity demonstrations with Morsi he has also been quoted saying, “we are critical of things in the presidency” and will be making specific “social and security” demands that must be met.
Critics of the president, the Muslim Brotherhood group and the government, cite economic deterioration, a continuing security vacuum and administrative mismanagement as the main — though not sole — reasons for growing discontent. Opinion polls reflect significant erosion in Morsi’s popularity. According to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) Morsi’s approval ratings fell to 42 per cent after 11 months in office, a four per cent drop from the 46 per cent recorded in the previous month. The figures are a far cry from the 78 per cent approval ratings the centre was recording after Morsi’s first 100 days in office.
On Tuesday Prime Minister Hisham Kandil acknowledged dwindling levels of support but that they were insufficient reason to hold early elections.
The CDP’s initial response to the Tamarod campaign was to launch an alternative petition supporting Morsi’s legitimacy as Egypt’s elected president. The tactic appeared to have been outflanked in recent weeks as pro-Morsi groups proposed massive pre-emptive demonstrations for 28 June. The CDP objected to the calls, arguing that they would only result in clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators and lead to yet more deaths. While the CDP’s arguments eventually won the day the desire to show that Morsi has a popular base persisted, which is what tomorrow’s rally is all about. The main participants will be the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist Front and several smaller Islamist parties, including the CDP.
The Salafist Calling, which includes the Nour Party, has said it will not join any demonstrations. The party articulates a position critical of both the president and of incitement from both pro- and anti-Morsi groups. Some Islamists have denounced protesters who will join the 30 June demonstrations as apostates; calls have been raised by some in the opposition camp to remove Islamists from the political scene by throwing them in prison.
In a statement issued on 12 June the Nour Party characterised the current situation as a climate of “war” and prelude to confrontation. Though it was once part of the Freedom and Justice Party’s parliamentary coalition in the dissolved People’s Assembly, the Nour’s statement said that while much of the anger directed at Morsi is justified and exists “even within” Islamist circles the only way forward is through dialogue. On Tuesday the Salafist Calling also issued a statement: despite reservations about Morsi and the government’s performance it will not be joining any demonstration because the president was elected for four years.
The Nour’s position seems to be less about neutrality and more about realpolitik and a cautious distancing from the Muslim Brotherhood. The party’s spokesman, Nader Bakkar, said they had declined an invitation to participate in a three-day solidarity with Syria event organised by Islamic groups (mainly the Muslim Brotherhood) earlier this week because the “timing” would feed into 30 June counter-mobilisation. In other words the event, which was attended by Morsi, was an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to use the Syrian tragedy to head off a crisis at home.
Some of the speakers wasted no time proving this was the case. Taking the podium in a packed Cairo Stadium, Salafi cleric Mohamed Abdel-Maksoud declared his hopes that 30 June would bring victory for Islam and defeat to apostates. The cleric followed this with doaa (prayer) to cause harm to the protesters. The audience roared its approval.
At the same event Morsi announced diplomatic ties with Damascus would be severed and the Syrian embassy in Cairo closed. Analysts viewed the move as yet more evidence of the president’s inconsistent position towards the Syrian crisis. In his first months in office Morsi declared Cairo’s full support for the Syrian revolution. Within months he retreated and announced a diplomatic initiative, with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to find a political solution to the conflict. This week’s latest U-turn, Egyptian diplomats say, caught them unawares and has more to do with Morsi’s tactics to counter the mobilisation of 30 June than with Syria.
On 16 June Morsi appointed 17 new governors, roughly divided between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. One new governor comes from Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s CDP, a second from Ayman Nour’s Ghad Al-Thawra. New military governors were strategically posted in the volatile Suez Canal area, the scene of violent protests earlier this year.
Yet beyond actions on Syria and appointing new governors, the presidency appears at a loss to know what it should be doing ahead of 30 June. Beyond meeting on Tuesday with the Wasat Party, which has edged closer to both the Brotherhood and the presidency in recent months, to discuss its initiative for national reconciliation, Morsi hasn’t given any sign that he is prepared to make the kind of concessions that might defuse the political crisis.
Neither is the National Salvation Front proposing any political solutions short of Morsi’s removal. Yet between the presidency and those who want to overthrow it are a multitude of difficult to categorise political positions.
While Abul-Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party is preparing to join the 30 June protests, in line with its leader’s March call for early elections, the party says it is willing to respond to initiatives capable of containing the crisis. Mohamed Othman, a member of the party’s political bureau, argues Morsi could ease tensions by agreeing a cabinet reshuffle that replaces Kandil, replacing the prosecutor-general as per the regulations cited in the constitution, and pursuing efforts to amend the most controversial articles of the constitution.
“We’re ready to interact even if two of these demands are met,” Othman told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Meanwhile, the Weekly has learned of efforts by groups and individuals from the pre-Mubarak’s ouster opposition to issue a joint statement articulating their position on the 30 June protests. Their main aim is to convey their categorical rejection of any form of military intervention or attempts by Mubarak’s remnants to capitalise on opposition to Morsi.
One of the main proponents of this call is socialist activist Wael Khalil, responsible for the Twitter hashtag “be with the revolution and not its enemies”.
It is a reminder that the revolution’s goals — including purging the Interior Ministry, bringing justice to its victims, holding Mubarak, his officials and his successors, including the military and the Brotherhood, responsible for their rights violations — have yet to be met. It is also indicative of what lies ahead: uncertainty, chaos and confusion continue to hold sway in the absence of a unified pro-revolution leadership and any realistic scenarios of what is to come.

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