The Tamarud (Rebel) movement first emerged some four months ago to express rejection of the current political, economic, and societal plight of Egyptians under the Muslim Brotherhood
(MB) ruling regime. The perpetrators of the movement waged a wide scale campaign to gather signatures to a document that declared in no mild terms that Egypt was missing bread, freedom, and justice; and the signatories were thus withdrawing confidence from President Mursi—whose term does not end till 2016—and demanding early presidential elections.
Tamarud set the date 30 June, a date which marks a year since President Mursi was sworn in, to wage nationwide protest to declare their demands. The aim is to dislodge him and call for early presidential elections to replace him. The coordinator-general of the movement, Mahmoud Badr, vowed that the Tamarud signatures gathered would exceed the 13 million votes which last year brought Mursi in.
Today, Tamarud has declared that the number of signatures to its document has already reached some 13 million, and is hoping that by 30 June they would reach anywhere between 15 and 17 million.
As 30 June approaches, and as Mursi opponents and Mursi supporters vow to defend their respective causes to the last drop of blood, symptoms of unease grip Egypt.
Even though Tamarud has promised the protests would be peaceful, the flagrant threat by Islamists to wipe the seculars out implies the day—and the following days in all probability—would be anything but peaceful. Matters have reached the point where the struggle is expected to lead to a ‘winner takes all’; the loser or losers will face harsh times ahead, to put it mildly. This conviction sharply pushes the face-off to an existential level: it’s life or death.
On security and money
The national security commission of the Shura (Consultative) Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament is next Sunday holding a hearing for representatives of the intelligence and national security apparatuses on the threats by Islamist movements to turn the demonstrations violent. “There must be a plan to deal with such threats, on the legal and security levels,” Saad Emara, deputy to the commission head said.
Security being the top priority issue that it is, there have been moves to guard strategic targets and facilities in the country. The Third Army stationed its forces along the Suez Canal, at its Suez headquarters, along the Suez Gulf bank, and the Ahmed Hamdy tunnel which links the mainland to the Sinai Peninsula.
The Interior Ministry has asked individuals in possession of guns, licensed or non-licensed, to hand them in as a precaution against the demonstrations turning bloody.
The Central Bank of Egypt wrote to the banks to be sure to have an emergency plan in place to secure the cash reserves necessary for operations of withdrawals and deposits for at least five days. And, in anticipation of the worst on 30 June, the Egyptian Pound plunged to its lowest point ever against the US Dollar, at EGP7.5 to the USD.
Most striking, however, were the moves by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ruling regime to tighten its grip on power and to rally all possible allies to its side. It is crucial for them to have the other Islamist movements on their side, since they stand a very slim chance of winning the day on their own. If the non-MB Islamists ally themselves with Tamarud rebels and succeed in toppling Mursi, a subsequent struggle for power is later expected between the Islamists and the seculars.
The MB moves ranged from the gratingly aggressive to the more gentle arm-twisting. Last Sunday saw President Mursi appoint 17 regional governors, seven among whom are MB members, nine belong to other Islamist movements, and one—Hassan Rifai al-Hawi, the new governor of the Suez Canal town of Ismailiya—of no known political affiliation. This brings the tally of Islamist governors to 13 from among Egypt’s 27 governorates.
The appointments brought on a spate of violent protests against the new governors, with the protestors refusing to allow the new governors to access their offices or, if they had already done that, to go out.
The most significant appointment was that of Adel al-Khayat as governor of Luxor. Luxor is among the richest, if not the richest, archaeological sites in Egypt. It is home to the Karnak and Luxor temples, and its West Bank includes the myriad network of tombs of the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens.
The new governor comes from a party set up by the Gamaa Islamiya, an extremist group that sees these monuments as idols and calls for their demolition or, at best, covering them up as called for by Khayat himself. It was the Gamaa that carried out a deadly attack at a West Bank site in 1997, in which some 57 tourists were killed. Luxor residents were livid at Khayat’s appointment, and considered it the death kiss to their livelihood which depends in the major part on tourism. They refused to accept him as governor, and threatened that, should the President insist on his appointment, Luxor would go so far as to declare itself an independent State.
On Tuesday, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou tendered his resignation to protest Khayat’s appointment, but Prime Minister Hisham Qandil refused to accept it and asked Zaazou to go on as Tourism Minister till the administration looks into the matter of the Khayat appointment.
A day earlier, Mursi had called for a ‘people’s conference’ at Cairo Stadium, to wage a “Support for Syria” rally. In a surprise move, he announced to the thousands of Islamist of his supporters who thronged the stadium that Egypt was severing all ties with Syria. He sounded a call for jihad against the Assad regime there.
While Mursi’s supporters roared in applause, the Islamist Hamas badges they wore, the black banners splashed with images of skulls and swords they raised, and the jihadi slogans they screamed, made it all too obvious that they embraced an extremist demeanour altogether alien to anything mainstream Egyptian.
It escaped no-one’s notice that the wild gathering was not intended to rally support for Syria, rather to rally support for Mursi.
Too many Egyptians bitterly asked why Mursi was severing ties with Syria not Israel; why was he declaring jihad against Syria—a ‘sister’ Arab country—not Israel, whom most Arabs see as the ‘Zionist enemy’? The obvious answer, according to many politicians, analysts, and the typical man on the street, was that Mursi was feeling threatened by the 30 June rebellion and had decided to join hands with the US. He would serve US political interests here, and they would work to keep him in power.
Nothing more to lose
For Egyptians, the message was clear. They were being terrorised into giving up their endeavor at rebellion; they were being told that it won’t work. Even though the Tamarud move was a peaceful one working to dislodge Mursi through a display of the huge proportion of Egyptians who no longer wanted him as president, their Islamist opponents had vowed to use force against them and, now they were being backed by the world’s superpower. But what the Islamists and the US did not appear to realise was that the mainstream Egyptians who were rallying to bring Mursi down were doing so because they felt they were losing their homeland, their heritage, their very identity; what more was there to lose?
For all Egyptians
Could Mursi’s call for jihad imply that Egypt could engage in military intervention in Syria? Military expert Major-General Muhammed al-Sol categorically excludes the idea, since the Egyptian army’s main objective is to defend Egypt, not any other country. “Mursi’s ‘conference’ was a show of force, an attempt to rally non-MB Islamists behind him,” Sol says. “In any other light, it was an exercise in absurdity and corruption.”
Maha Abu-Bakr, member of the Nasserist party, says that 30 June will witness a revolution against the pan-world MB movement: in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey. “We are willing to lay down our life for our cause; life without freedom, dignity or social justice is meaningless. Because the MB is a group that stops at nothing, we are expecting violence. But we are adamant; we will not give up till the President and the Islamist regime he belongs to step down.”
Alaa-Eddin Essam of the leftist Tagammu Party which is a member of the opposition National Salvation Front alliance and of Tamarud, says that their work is coordinated through a steering committee in which all the opposition movements are represented. “Our utmost goal is that Mursi should leave,” Essam says, “and the head of Supreme Constitutional Court should take over through a transitional period. Then we could have a new parliament and a president who would serve all Egyptians, not the MB alone.”
The Islamists resorted to their by-now familiar weapon of declaring their opponents apostates. Islamic satellite TV channels had no shortage of prominent Islamic preachers airing views against the 30 June protestors, and insisting that the rebellion against Mursi was tantamount to a rebellion against Islam and the Islamic project.
In a video posted on Youtube, the radical Islamic preacher Wagdy Ghoneim branded the protests as a front for destruction, made up of “crusaders”, meaning Christians, as well as criminals, thugs, and traitors who want to oust the elected president. “You started it all and the initiator is the aggressor,” he remarked.
The Qatar-based preacher claimed that weapons stashed away in churches and monasteries would be used to fight the Mursi regime and fuel the protests.
And where do the Copts stand?
Last Monday saw a visit by US ambassador Anne Patterson to Pope Tawadros II at the papal headquarters in St Mark’s in Abassiya, Cairo. The visit was only announced two hours in advance and, despite the usual cordial declarations by the Pope and the ambassador, had Coptic youth all fired up. Leaders of Coptic youth movements, including the Maspero Youth Union’s Andrawus Ewida and the Coptic Youth Front’s Amir Ayad insisted the US ambassador was an ‘unwelcome visitor’ as long as the US administration persisted in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist movements.
Pope Tawadros II was in several instances asked by the media if the Church would ban or advice its congregation against participating in the protests. “The Church is not entitled to trifle with the congregation’s political views or stances,” he said. “My only advice is that each person should behave according to the dictates of his or her conscience.”
A day later, on Tuesday, the President invited the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Pope Tawadros II to a surprise meeting. The meeting lasted for several hours, and the Church issued a terse declaration later saying that they discussed the preservation of social peace in Egypt through education, the media, and the religious address, to promote reassurance and calm among Egyptians. It was only on the following day that Sheikh Tayeb issued a declaration on it, in which he insisted that peaceful opposition of a ruler is legitimate, condoned by Islam, and has nothing to do with faith. Opinions which preach that opposition of the ruler is tantamount to apostasy reflect perverse thought.
Hosted by Lamees al-Hadidi on her talk show on CBC satellite TV channel on Tuesday evening Pope Tawadros again insisted the Church had no authority over the congregation where politics is concerned. He summed it all up when he advised President Mursi to work to sow the seeds of peace in Egypt.
21 June 2013