By Sherif Elhelwa
As Egyptians celebrated the second anniversary of former president Hosni Mubarak’s ousting, protests organised by opposition groups continued against the rule of Mubarak’s successor President Mohamed Morsi, who some believe will meet Mubarak’s fate. Others believe he remains firmly in control.
Although promoted as “peaceful”, marches toward government institutions and the presidential palace have frequently turned violent as demonstrators hurl Molotov cocktails, inviting the inevitable response from Egyptian riot police who use water cannons, teargas, birdshot, and batons to deter protesters from attacking the palace.
Slogans heard during the early days of the 25 January Revolution that ousted Mubarak are being heard once more, this time calling for the fall of the Morsi regime and the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite almost daily protests, the government doesn’t seem to be shaken. “All Islamists in Egypt support Morsi,” Baher Ghorab, a Muslim Brotherhood member who works as a journalist, told The Media Line. “[Morsi] was democratically elected and he has many supporters from all sectors of Egyptian society.”
Waleed Al-Badry, a media spokesman for the FJP, told The Media Line in an exclusive interview that the group is supported by other Islamist groups such as the Salafis who do not necessarily share the same ideology, but have similar political motives: to turn Egypt into a state ruled by Islamic (Sharia) law.
“Salafis and the Muslim Brothers are political conservatives and they are suffering from a lack of experience,” Al-Badry said. He lauded what he called “the wisdom” of President Morsi in watching and observing the current situation. In his assessment, “Morsi is a very wise and smart person. I think the problem lies behind the people surrounding him”.
As protests escalate throughout Egyptian cities, some believe the Muslim Brotherhood-backed regime will fall because of the appearance of incompetence in running the state.
According to journalist Karim Al-Serafy, who writes for Egyptian independent newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabe’: “The Salafis will take over, maybe by popular support, since they’re the next-best alternative for the majority of Egypt’s poor and conservative Egyptians. They have more presence and good credit in the street.” Al-Serafy predicted that “power will change hands from a moderate Islamic Muslim Brotherhood to the extremist Salafis, which will take years to end”.
Early on during the period leading up to Mubarak’s ousting, the slogan of the Salafi Al-Nour Party, “Islamiya, Islamiya!” (“Islamic, Islamic!”), was countered by liberals and subdued by the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian opposition groups, which include the National Salvation Front (NSF), leftist parties, youth movements, liberal factions and revolutionary movements, still do not represent the majority of the Egyptian population, most of whom did not vote. Out of approximately 50 million Egyptians who are eligible to vote, only about 26 million voted in the recent presidential election.
According to Ghorab, “the [more experienced] opposition groups are taking advantage of the lack of political experience of the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and Egyptians”.
For many, the most important question is how long Morsi and his government will last—and whether and to what extent Morsi is in control of the military.
Waheed Abdel Mageed, Assistant Director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that “President Morsi seems to be in control of the overall strategic decisions of the military where he swiftly removed the head of Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi back in August 2012, and brought in the new defence minister, General Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi. There are a lot of deals that happened since then”.
Al-Sisi is considered a new breed for the Egyptian Armed Forces, appearing to be a practicing Muslim due to the presence of a prayer mark (rug burn) on his forehead, and his wife wearing a Niqab [head covering]. “This isn’t the norm in the military institution, where its old generation members are known to be moderate Muslims such as former President Sadat, who was assassinated at the hands of extreme Islamists in 1981, and former President Mubarak,” Mai Assal, a liberal business executive and once political activist, explained to The Media Line.
It appears from press statements that because the military does not want to lose support among Egyptians, appearing to be the last resort for their protection, it would like to maintain a neutral position. “The military institution is still in control of its own elements and investments, and I doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over the steering wheel of the Armed Forces,” Sameh Al-Yazal, a retired general and expert on the Egyptian military, said in an interview on Egyptian television.
“The armed forces are still the final resort for the Egyptians, and Egyptians believe that the armed forces will protect them at all costs. But I believe the armed forces will not go back to take control unless there is a popular demand [to do so].”
According to Abdallah Mash-hoor, grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Grand Mufti Moustafa Mash-hoor, and a prominent figure in the FJP-run Egyptian Business Development Association (EBDA), “Morsi is a very smart politician. He is allowing this criticism so the opposition can be real and realistic. He is allowing all kinds of criticism. Many are criticising him and even attacking the presidential palace, and this has nothing to do with democracy”.
One might believe that a civil war could break out after all the protests and clashes between supporters of the regime and opposition group, but according to Sobhy Saleh, former secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood and member of the constituent assembly charged with drafting Egypt’s constitution, things are different.
He told The Media Line: “We have the complete conviction that there is a conspiracy against the Muslim Brotherhood [based on] media reports against them. The Egyptian people want change and I think that the nature of the Egyptian people is to avoid aggression. The proof of that is what happened during the 18 days of the revolution.”