Organizers of a campaign seeking to force an early presidential election are planning to stage mass demonstrations across Egypt on June 30, the first anniversary of the presidency of Mohamed Morsi. The protests are aimed at showing the extent of popular disaffection with the government. There is a risk that they will result in renewed street violence, after a period of relative calm, following the bloody clashes in December and January. The prospect of Morsi stepping down or being forced out of office seems remote, however.
The Tamarrod (“rebel” in Arabic) movement claims to have almost reached its target of securing 15 million signatures on a petition calling for the withdrawal of confidence in Morsi. The target is based on exceeding the 13.2 million votes Morsi received in the second round of the presidential election last year. Organizers have indicated that they will present the petition to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and previously led by Morsi, has dismissed the petition as little more than an opinion poll, and stated that there are no constitutional grounds for withdrawing confidence in a president purely on the basis of a large number of signatures.
Opposition struggles to retain coherence
The Tamarrod campaign was launched by activists that had been involved in the Kifaya (“enough”) movement, which was one of the first groups to press for the ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak, in the mid-2000s. It has since been joined by other activist groups from the later period of the Mubarak era, as well as by trade unions and some of the parties that make up the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF). The strength of the support for the petition has exposed the shortcomings of the NSF, which has been plagued by internal differences and has failed to take a consistent position on whether it is prepared to operate within the existing political process.
The NSF has demanded that Morsi replace the prime minister, Hisham Qandil, and form a government of national unity as a condition for taking part in the election of a new lower house of parliament. However, some parties within the NSF have indicated that they would participate in the election even if these conditions are not met. The NSF has also refused repeated invitations from Morsi to engage in a national dialogue, but some prominent figures in the opposition front have taken part in meetings with the president himself or his colleagues. A recent encounter between Amr Moussa, one of the leaders of the NSF, and Khairat al‑Shater, a deputy to the supreme guide of Muslim Brotherhood, sparked a particularly acrimonious row.
“The [ruling party] has acknowledged that there is room for criticism of the government’s performance, but it has dismissed suggestions that Morsi would even consider standing down.” – The Economist Intelligence Unit
Morsi, meanwhile, has sought to mobilize patriotic support behind the government on the question of Ethiopia’s construction of a dam on the Blue Nile, which could have a major impact on Egypt’s principal source of water.
The crux of Tamarrod
The Tamarrod petition starts with seven statements in colloquial Egyptian Arabic explaining why the people no longer want Morsi as their leader. The statements raise issues including the lack of security; the persistence of poverty; the “collapse of the economy” and the resort to “begging” for foreign assistance; the failure to bring to justice those responsible for killing protesters in January and February 2011; and Egypt’s continued “subservience” to the United States. The petition goes on to assert that Morsi has failed to realize any of the goals of the revolution—bread, freedom and justice—and the final part is a declaration that the signatory withdraws confidence in Morsi, calls for the early election of a new president and vows to uphold the revolution’s goals.
The FJP has acknowledged that there is room for criticism of the government’s performance, but it has dismissed suggestions that Morsi would even consider standing down. Morsi and the FJP maintain that they are keen to work with the opposition on tackling Egypt’s problems, but they complain that the opposition has refused to engage with them.
FJP complains of opposition obstructionism
One of the examples that Morsi’s supporters have cited as opposition obstructionism has been the draft law governing the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The original draft was produced by the FJP in early 2012, but was stalled because of the dissolution of the lower house of parliament in July of that year. A new draft appeared in February 2013, and was immediately condemned by civil society groups for being even more restrictive than the Mubarak-era legislation, on the basis of which 43 NGO workers were sentenced on June 4 to jail terms ranging from one to five years (most non-Egyptian nationals were sentenced in absentia). Morsi’s office produced a revised draft at the end of May, which is being considered by the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament), which will continue to act as Egypt’s legislature until a new lower house is elected. A group of 40 local and foreign NGOs have issued a statement sharply critical of the new draft, on the grounds that it continues to discriminate against foreign NGOs and that it gives discretion to the security services to close NGOs on spurious grounds.
Morsi’s advisers have given a series of briefings in Egypt, as well as in Europe and the U.S., in which they have sought to argue that the government genuinely wants the NGO law to strengthen the concept of civil society. One of Morsi’s advisers conceded during one such off-the-record briefing that the February draft incorporated the mentality inherited from the Mubarak era of stifling restrictions on NGO activities, but claimed that the new draft was much more light-touch, for example in referring to “tracking” of foreign funds rather than “monitoring.” Such distinctions have not impressed the NGOs, which have called on Morsi to use his presidential powers to pardon the 43 convicted NGO workers as a gesture of his good intentions.
Back to the streets
The scale of the response to the Tamarrod petition suggests that the June 30 protests will attract large crowds. Some pro-Morsi groups have pledged to stage counter-demonstrations, which could set the scene for violent confrontations. Some sections of the opposition are also likely to be emboldened by the protests in Turkey against that country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) has served as a model for the FJP. With the parliamentary elections also likely to be delayed again (they had already been postponed until October) after the SCC rejected the Shura Council’s latest election law, it appears that, once again, the streets will be the conduit for airing political disagreements.
This post has been authored exclusively for MEV by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
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