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'Rebel' Egyptian Movement Defies Morsi Through Petitions

The increasingly popular 'Rebel' (Tamarod) Movement is collecting signatures to force early elections in Egypt.

GIZA, Egypt — "The Rebel Movement announces that it is collecting signed petitions calling for confidence withdrawal from the illegitimate President Mohammed Morsi."

In the middle of the infamously noisy and overcrowded Giza Square, a group of 15 activists started to repeat their announcement through a megaphone, carrying thousands of copies of the petition and a stock of extra pens Monday.    

"We are fed up with this tyrant! ... no food, no electricity, no money, [Morsi] has done nothing to improve our conditions," said a man in his forties, who approached the group, grabbed a copy, and started to read it.

"Because the streets remain insecure, we don't want you. Because the poor still have no place, we don’t want you. … Because the economy is collapsed and based on begging [for foreign aid] we don't want you," the petition form stated. It listed several reasons urging Egyptians to support the impeachment of their president, followed by designated spaces for the name, national ID number, governorate, and signature of the 'rebel.'

In less than 30 minutes, the group became the center of a widening circle of Morsi opponents — street vendors, fully veiled women, bearded, conservative shiekhs, college students, Egyptians from all walks of life were very eager to show their discontent.  

In the past couple of weeks, hundreds of similar gatherings were witnessed across Egypt, in busy squares, markets, metro stations, showing the increasing popularity of the nonpartisan initiative that newly united the majority of the Egyptian opposition: the Tamrod (Rebel) campaign.

It all started with three activists from the Kefaya movement, one of the oldest opposition groups in Egypt, which has been calling for political reform since 2005.

"We had an idea of organizing a strong, popular street action against the deteriorating political and economic conditions, to reunite the revolutionaries and all the Egyptians who are fed up with Morsi," said Mahmood Shaheen, one of the founders of Tamarod and its spokesman.

The founders recruited about 60 volunteers from different political backgrounds, who drafted the petition and formed the cornerstone of the movement, which was officially declared on May Day.

"Since then, it was a huge success, thousands wanted to join, millions wanted to sign," said Shaheen.

The movement has headquarters in Cairo, organizers in every governorate, and a strong network of volunteers, whose numbers significantly increased after the National Salvation Front, the April 6 Youth Movement, the Constitution Party, the  Egyptian Conference party and many other Muslim Brotherhood adversaries officially joined the movement.

In a news conference last week, Tamarod claimed that in less than 10 days it collected more than 2 million signatures through the efforts of its volunteers in the streets, and via the online form of the petition.

Tamarod instantly became a buzzword in media and the blogosphere.

"I will sign the petition, although I know it is useless," said a woman in her mid-thirties, while fetching the ID card from her purse to copy its digits on the petition. "After all, what shall you do with all of these signatures anyway?" she asked the activists of Tamarod.

Mostafa Fathy, the 25-year-old leader of the Giza group answered: "We are going to collect 15 million signed and documented petitions, [then] present them to the constitutional court to force an early presidential election."      

The woman seemed skeptical and unconvinced with the answer, but she went ahead and signed, saying, "Well, I hope your plan will work."

Fathy answered with a smile: "We are doing our best; at least, we are trying."

Legally, the plan will never work, according to professor Rafat Fouda, chairman of the General Law Department at the Cairo University Law School.

Fouda pointed out that the Egyptian constitution never mentioned any specific circumstances to call for early elections, and the only way to change the president is through the ballot box after he finishes his legal term.

Morsi took office last year after he secured 51.7% of the votes, approximately 13.2 million votes out of around 26 million.  

"Even if Tamarod collected 40 million votes, they would be successful only in embarrassing the president, and showing how unpopular he became," Fouda asserted, "All of their papers don’t have the least minor legal implication."

Gathering petitions isn’t a new tactic for the Egyptian opposition. Back in 2010, the National Association for Change collected more than a million signed petitions to pressure then-President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak for political reform and fair elections.

Hasan Nafaa, professor of political science in Cairo University, was among the leaders of the NAC petition campaign three years ago, and today he is an outspoken supporter of Tamarod. 

"In 2010, the campaign didn’t topple the regime, but it did spread unprecedented levels of involvement and awareness in the streets and revived the spirit of defiance," said Nafaa. "Today, Tamarod is just starting and I cannot predict its outcome, but the opposition must use all and every peaceful means of resistance against a regime that betrayed the values of the revolution."

The Muslim Brotherhood took part in the 2010 petition gathering side by side with Nafaa and the NFC, while today they mock the petitions movement and consider Tamarod unworthy of a serious discussion.

"Do these guys think they are [changing the management] of a sports club?" Mohammed Abdulmaksood, a lawyer of the Muslim Brotherhood, asked in a phone interview. "The whole confidence-withdrawal idea is very laughable."

Abdulmaksood said that in 2010, the petitions movements that the MB took part in aimed to show the demands of the people to the president, not to get him out of his position. "Anyone can collect signatures to ask the president for reforms, or request  a change of  certain minister. … The situation today is totally different."

 Abdulmaksood doubted the numbers of signatures collected by Tamarod, but he said that no matter how authentic the petitions are, "they are as worthy as void itself."

According to the spokesman of Tamrod, the movement is calling for a million-man march on the June 30 to the Ithadiya presidential palace, where they will show that they managed to achieve the 15 million signed petitions target, and announce that the legitimacy of the president is nulled.

After four hours, the Giza Rebels collected at least 3,000 petitions, waiting for the end of next month's protest to see whether their effort would be marked in history as the instigator of a revolutionary wave that toppled Morsi, or just another popular awareness campaign, like its antecedent in 2010. 

Ahmed Ateyya is a Cairo-based, award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the co-founder of Wojood Media, a documentary production company, and the assignment manager of ElWatan news portal. On Twitter: @ateyya

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