In the chaotic conditions of post-revolution Egypt few solutions to the country’s mounting crises are on offer. The Tamarod — or Rebellion — movement, which is petitioning to force early presidential elections, is no exception to the rule.
The movement, which appeared to surface from nowhere, has been making the news with claims it has collected more than three million signatures in less than two weeks. According to the movement’s spokespeople, the target is to collect 15 million signatures by 30 June and thus outnumber the votes by which Mohamed Morsi was elected president, and on his first anniversary in office.
Tamarod’s May Wahba says the plan is to then file a lawsuit against Morsi for “impersonating” Egypt’s president. She fully expects the case to be accepted and referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) which will rule to annul Morsi’s presidency and call for early presidential elections. In the interim the SCC’s head will be Egypt’s acting president.
Wahba, who says she is affiliated with the pre-revolution anti-Hosni Mubarak movement Kifaya, insists the plan is not only constitutional but achievable. She cites those sections of “the constitution” which stipulate that the people are the source of all power. “So if the people provide evidence that they want early presidential elections then that’s definitely constitutional. We have consulted legal specialists so we know.”
But the legality of Tamarod’s plan is based on Article 84 of the defunct 1971 constitution which stipulates that the parliamentary speaker should temporarily replace the president if the latter is unable to carry out his duties or, should parliament be dissolved, the head of the SCC. Article 153 of the new constitution, approved by referendum last December, stipulates that it is the prime minister who takes over.
The buzz the movement has created clearly has little to do with watertight constitutional arguments.
Anti-Morsi protests denouncing the president’s government and the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which he hails, quickly became fixated on terminating Morsi’s rule rather than competing with it. Initially there was some hesitation about openly demanding Morsi be removed from power but this has changed in the last five months, thanks largely to the president’s lacklustre performance.
Anti-Morsi protests found their way to the presidential palace in November after the president issued a constitutional declaration that placed him above the law. The protests turned bloody when Morsi’s supporters appeared on the scene. Violence resurfaced in January when defendants in the Port Said football stadium case were sentenced to death. For several days the authorities appeared to lose control of the canal city. Clashes subsequently spread to Cairo as the presidential palace once again became the focus of violent demonstrations.
By February calls for civil disobedience were gaining momentum in several provinces, most notably in Port Said where they were hailed, and often exaggerated, by the opposition. The momentum soon dissipated between a host of competing aims. Some wanted to overthrow Morsi. Others were demanding better wages, reform of the security apparatus, an overhaul of public services, the addressing of unemployment and action to halt the collapse of the economy.
Tamarod’s initiative is a far cry from the Molotov-throwing protests whose violence turned off so many. The movement’s claim it has collected three million signatures might be an exaggeration; in the absence of any independent transparent check it is impossible to tell. Tamarod’s petition takes the form of A4 photocopied sheets of paper without serial numbers. Each sheet briefly explains the aim of the petition and has four fields for the name and ID number of signatories. There is also a website which allows for electronic signing though it fails to detail the number of signatures.
It is, concedes anti-Morsi signatory Khaled Salah, essentially a “symbolic” protest. “I’m mad at the system, at Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and I want them to know it, that’s all,” he says.
Tamarod’s Facebook page, helped along by press and TV outlets opposed to Morsi, has given much attention to the spectacle of celebrities, politicians, activists and laypeople signing and posing with the form. That the Morsi-appointed prosecutor-general has now ordered an investigation into claims that TV hosts and Tamarod spokespeople are seeking to topple the regime and overthrow the constitution shows the extent to which the movement has caught officials on the back foot. Ironically, the same vague charges used to be pressed against the Muslim Brotherhood during Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule.
Most recently the kidnapping of security personnel in Sinai has overshadowed the debate about Tamarod’s appeal to both pro- and anti-revolution forces, though it can have come as no surprise when Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister and Morsi’s presidential election rival, signed Tamarod’s form. Shafik’s signature provoked some pro-revolution activists, like leftist Wael Khalil, to complain about the way those who are against the Brotherhood but support — and fought for — the revolution are being grouped with those who want to restore the old regime.
“I want to bring Morsi down because of his anti-revolution posturing and because I want to continue the revolution,” says Khalil, “but this isn’t compatible with an alliance with counter-revolution forces who want to overthrow the existing regime in order to replace it.”
Whatever the signature count, one thing the petition campaign is doing is throwing light on the existential dilemma facing opposition forces.
Focussing solely on ousting Morsi in the absence of a revolutionary leadership capable of offering any viable alternative recalls the way Mubarak was overthrown, only for protesters to find themselves ruled by the military, and the way the military was itself replaced by the only organised political group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Polls show a decline in Morsi’s and the Brotherhood’s popularity but it is not as if the opposition National Salvation Front is picking up support. Anti-Morsi forces who don’t relate to the opposition’s current leadership say they feel betrayed by the absence of any alternatives.
“Tamarod is not enough,” proclaims a widely circulated blog post by Amr Al-Deeb, an Egyptian based in Canada. “To fill the void left by an ousted regime, revolutionary forces need clear principles and objectives that can be realised.” At best, adds Al-Deeb, Tamarod will only create a new void. “The problem is in filling it”.