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Jul 1, 2013 | 16:05 GMT

5 mins read

Egypt's Anti-Government Protests Continue

Egypt's Anti-Government Protests Continue
(GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Capitalizing on the unpopularity of President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Tamarod movement — organizer of the ongoing protests in Egypt — has demonstrated that it is a widespread popular phenomenon capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Egyptians to protest against the current regime.

The Egyptian military's ultimatum demanding that all political forces reach a compromise within 48 hours belies the limitations of Egypt's most powerful institution. Caught between needing to respond to mass protests and unwilling to step into directly ruling the state itself, Egypt's disparate political forces must now reach a mutual agreement amongst themselves or risk a solution imposed upon them by the military.

The issue now turns to one of stamina. When protests of this size occurred in Egypt in 2011, it took 18 days for then-President Hosni Mubarak to be removed by the military; whether Tamarod can sustain the momentum of the current demonstrations remains to be seen. The upcoming days will be a test of endurance for both sides. If Tamarod succeeds in forcing the military's hand, it will be important to remember that the fall of Morsi does not in itself constitute a revolution especially if the Muslim Brotherhood is not completely pushed out of power. The military is still the ultimate source of power in the country; it was behind the removal of Mubarak in 2011, and for all its popularity, Tamarod has not shown that it desires to or is capable of challenging that reality. 

Widespread protests and political unrest originally organized by Tamarod continued in Egypt for a second day July 1. The military announced a 48-hour ultimatum for "the demands of the people to be met" and said a national roadmap for political parties would be imposed if they weren't; the statement emphasized the military's role in maintaining public "safety and security." There have been conflicting reports on the size of the protests, but virtually all sources agree that they are extremely large, and likely exceed the number of people on the streets even at the height of the 2011 unrest that deposed Mubarak. Asharq Al-Awsat reported that "hundreds of thousands" had turned out to protest, while AP and other mainstream Western sources reported that "millions" had streamed into the streets. Reportedly, an Egyptian military source told Reuters that across the country, more than 14 million people had participated in protests. The Tamarod movement claims that 22 million Egyptians have signed its petition calling for the removal of Morsi, though scrutiny of that signing process makes numbers that high extremely suspect. In solidarity with the protests, four ministers in the Egyptian Cabinet submitted their resignations, though Morsi reportedly did not accept them. It should also be noted that there have been reports of tens and even hundreds of thousands of pro-Morsi supporters taking to the streets in support of the current government.

Those Morsi supporters have become targets of the protesters in their own right, and most of the limited violence that has occurred thus far has been associated with clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters. Overall, the Egyptian Health Ministry said that 16 have been killed and more than 700 have been injured since the protests began in earnest June 30. Most notably, on July 1, hundreds of protesters overran the national Muslim Brotherhood headquarters located in the Moqattam district of Cairo, resulting in the death of at least five people, according to Al-Ahram.

The national headquarters is just one of several Brotherhood-affiliated offices to come under attack recently. The New York Times reported that Egyptian security forces were in the vicinity when the Brotherhood headquarters were attacked and did nothing to stop the attack even after reinforcements arrived, underscoring the fact that the police and internal security forces have deep, long-standing issues with Morsi's government.

Tamarod's Plans

It is important to keep in mind that Tamarod itself is not a political party; it is an umbrella group bringing together a range of opponents to the status quo, and it has no platform besides the removal of Morsi. This complicates matters for both the opposition and the military; lacking the internal cohesion and leadership structure of the Brotherhood, Tamarod is unlikely to be able to agree upon a platform amongst themselves, let alone with Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party within the 48-hour timeline.

From the start, the goal of the protesters has been to force the Egyptian military to intervene, as it did in 2011, and remove Morsi from political office. But if Tamarod succeeds and the military takes over direct rule of the country for an interim period, the electoral support for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party likely will still be greater than any of the fractured network of Egypt's secular opposition parties. It will be important then to keep an eye not only on the endurance of the protests but also on whether Egypt's opposition is able to coalesce around something more than Morsi's removal. Tamarod-associated organizers said in a news conference June 30 that they had established a political group called the "June 30 front." It remains to be seen whether this movement gains traction and is able to translate widespread, heterogeneous unrest into focused political power in line with the military's demands.

The Military's Position

It is an open secret that the Egyptian military does not want to take over governance of the country. Its cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood is based on the fact that, despite its unpopularity, the Brotherhood remains the most organized, cohesive group in civil society. The military will hope that the protesters will eventually go home, or that some political compromise can be reached with opposition parties that will quench Tamarod's thirst for political change. But the military can afford to wait only for so long before it is forced to intervene. One of the defining moments of the protests on June 30 was when the military sent four helicopters to fly over Tahrir Square and drop Egyptian flags. 

For now though, this is a standoff. The overture has only just finished, and the size and duration of the protests, the chance for violence and the ability of the opposition to organize will all be key factors to scrutinize as the endurance of the popular dissatisfaction with Morsi is tested. If the protesters provoke the military to dislodge Morsi, it will end with a recapitulation of 2011, with the military in charge and Egypt mired in an even deeper political gridlock. But for now, Morsi reportedly is under the protection of the army's Republican Guard and consulting with the prime minister, defense minister and head of intelligence. Stratfor said it in 2011, and it bears repeating: "In spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn't mean that it won't, but it hasn't yet."

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