As Egyptians celebrated the second anniversary of former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, protests organized by opposition groups continued against the rule of Mubarak successor Mohamed Morsi, whom some believe will meet Mubarak’s fate. Others believe he remains in firm control.
Although promoted as “peaceful,” marches toward government institutions and the Presidential Palace of Ithadiya have frequently turned violent as demonstrators hurl Molotov cocktails, inviting the inevitable response from Egyptian riot police who use water cannons, tear gas, birdshot, and batons to deter protestors from attacking the palace.
Slogans that were heard during the early days of the January 25th Egyptian revolution that ousted Mubarak are again being heard, this time calling for the fall of the Morsi regime and the ruling Freedom & Justice Party, the party 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 Freedom and Justice Party, 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 the lack of experience,” Al-Badry said. He lauded what he called “the wisdom” of President Morsi to watch and observe the current situation. In his assessment, “Morsi is a very wise and smart person. I think the problem hides 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 Sabei,' “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 in the days leading to the ouster of Mubarak, the slogan of the Salafi Al-Nour Party,“Islamiya-Islamiya,” was countered by liberals, and subdued by the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian opposition groups, which include the National Salvation Front, leftist parties, youth movements, Liberal factions and revolutionary movements, still do not represent the majority of the Egyptian population, the 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.”
To many, the most important question is how long will Morsi and his government last; and whether and to what extent Morsi is in control of the military.
Waheed Abdel Mageed, Assistant Director for Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that, “President Morsi seem to be in control of the overall strategic decisions of the military where he swiftly removed the head of Supreme Council of Armed Forces Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi back in August 2012, and brought-in the new Defense Minister, General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi. There are a lot of deals that happened since then.”
Al-Sisi is considered a new breed for the Egyptian Armed Forces, where his appearance seems to be that of 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 by the hands of extreme Islamists in 1981, and former President Mubarak,” Mai Assal, a liberal business executive and an old-time political activist, explained to The Media Line.
It appears from press statements that because the military does not want to lose its 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 takeover the steering wheel of the Armed Forces,” Sameh Al-Yazal, a retired general and expert on the Egyptian military said in an interview to 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 Freedom & Justice Party-run Egyptian Business Development Association (EBDA), “Morsi is a very smart politician. He is allowing this criticism so the opposition could be real and realistic. He is allowing all kind of criticism. Many are criticizing him and even attacking the presidential palace, and this has nothing to do with democracy.” Mash-hoor said.
One might believe that a civil war might breakout 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 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.”