It's safe to say that only a few of us might have seen this happening.
The sheer number of Egyptians who took to the streets and squares today in the scorching heat, and not even on a weekend even as usual for such protests, was the largest single protest in Egyptian history. There is absolutely no doubt about it.
As I marched from the journalists’ syndicate toward Tahrir Square, it had already been packed for at least a couple of hours. I stood outside to see hundreds going in and out each minute, while several large-scale marches either stood outside and around the square, or decided to move instead toward the Ettihadeyya presidential palace as the alternative.
Around the square, the number was perhaps even larger than that inside. When I finally made my way inside, the mood was as defiant as it was jubilant and certain. There were Nasser, Gandhi and Mandela quotes on leaflets and signs, even a couple of Ahinsa/Ahimsa symbols with revolutionary writings on them, in addition to religious and traditional quotes as well the famous displays of the Quran and Cross together in unity and Christians guarding praying Muslims. What is even more remarkable is that this historic and record outpour of people happened without any real mobilization mechanism, unlike the Brotherhood and Islamists who are known to be capable of almost literally moving each member at will. It was a spontaneous outburst that showed a vast diversity of Egyptians. In fact, it largely transcended the revolutionary movement itself and appears to have had very little to do with the opposition’s calls or shaky direct mobilization.
And it seems, according to imagery being shared around, that almost every major Cairo suburb had its own anti-Morsi protest today. Cars in the streets were honking at each other in a traditional celebratory pattern, while many had anti-Morsi signs (especially red cards as those used in football to expel a player outside the field) glued to them. Strangers were talking to each other in the streets, discussing when Morsi will leave (treating it as a fact,) and some even protested in front of their homes. Egyptian flags flooded the streets and visibly hung from many buildings in such a number for the first time since February 2011, when Mubarak fell.
Many of Egypt’s governorates were an even bigger surprise, turning out in record numbers today out of their own spontaneity as well. Every opposition member and protester I have spoken to concurs: none expected such a number. So many Egyptians appear truly angry, across the board. And these protesters seemed confident, perhaps with some reason, that this time the Police and the military are either on their side or at least won’t stand against them. In fact, it is reported that nearby police officers in the Dokki police station even held signs in support of the protest, and there are unconfirmed claims that police members protested today in civilian clothing. The military also had its shares of chants, such as the infamous “The military and the people are one hand”, and the one and rhyming chant “Come down [i.e. with your forces] Sisi, Morsi is not my president”, which seemed to bother some of the more revolutionary protesters out there who do not want the military to return to power. Most around me, on the other hand, appeared to be largely waiting for the military to make some move. Every time a military chopper flew above, many of the protesters loudly cheered for it. While there have been injuries in the governorates and two regrettably confirmed fatalities today, according to the health ministry, everyone expected violence to be much worse.
The presidency earlier issued a call for dialogue, but the opposition seems to be rebuffing such calls, perhaps feeling emboldened by today’s large numbers. Instead, they have called on people to continue protesting until Morsi and the Brotherhood leave power, in their “Revolutionary Statement No. 1.”
Meanwhile, pro Morsi protesters in Rab’aa square have also finally taken count of the large numbers of protesters against them, but many supporters on social media largely ascribe the masses to the “evil effect of media propaganda”, while continuing to juggle arguments of defending democracy, Sharia, and/or that the other protest is being used by the former regime and is infested with thugs, among others. Even Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has reportedly resorted to arguing that “if Morsi stepped down, someone more evil would replace him.”
Where does this leave Morsi and the Brotherhood? In a vehemently difficult spot.
At this current rate, and if the momentum remains, Morsi and the Brotherhood would risk too much by trying to hold on to power, at least in the same capacity. Even the argument that he was “elected by the will of the people” is deeply injured by the sheer number of anti-Morsi protesters, which ostensibly seemed to largely outnumber his supporting protesters. Morsi and the Brotherhood also seem to have largely been (quasi-)abandoned by many of the Salafists (Al-Nour has stayed out of the conflict, while Al-Watan recently announced it was suspending participation in the protests to “avoid bloodshed”). They also appear not to be in a position to expect the backing of the military or the police (and certainly not the judiciary), and appear popularly outnumbered by an angry crowd whose vibe is that they won't be relenting soon. It's expected that Morsi might attempt to maneuver through sacking the government in an attempt to deal with some of the anger (that rumor did fly around today, only to be denied by the a presidential spokesman according to reports.) But the difficulty here is that such a move would further embolden protesters, making them realize they have influence. If he didn’t sack the government on the other hand, it would inflame the protesters even more — a Catch-22.
Meanwhile, the opposition “June 30 Front” has already called for large-scale “Determination” protests on Tuesday, while the Tamarod (Rebel) campaign has also given Morsi until Tuesday before a campaign of civil disobedience would be undertaken (some calls for civil disobedience from Monday have already be sounded), and before marching onto the Qubba presidential palace.
Perhaps the best thing Morsi can do for himself, the Brotherhood and for the country as a whole is to actually call for early presidential elections indeed. He can even announce — if he wishes — that he will stand in them again. The Brotherhood, whose headquarters continue to be burned up around the country in what is likely a mixture of paid thuggery and genuine public anger, would also benefit from a profound official change in top leadership that can hope to try and salvage whatever can be left of the organization's image, and perhaps try to take the decades-old Brotherhood into a new era and mindset. But given how charged up their supporters have been lately, it would prove internally very painful for the Brotherhood to do so.
It is staggering to think how Morsi and the Brotherhood have obliterated so much of the goodwill that many people genuinely had for (or were willing to give to) them, largely in a single year. All the Brotherhood and Morsi (elected by only 51.7% with the indispensable aid of a revolutionary-Islamist coalition that has since fallen apart) had to do was to be transparent, inclusive, and focused on playing a mediating role between the country’s forces. Had they done that, they could have had a comfortable lock on the country within a year or two. Instead, they grew too certain of their strength and capabilities, of the weakness and disorganization of others, and in that the Egyptian people are unlikely to rise up again, at least not in such numbers. Regardless of what ends up happening over the next few days, Egypt has changed, yet again. The people have proven once more that they will not be subdued or intimidated.