Egypt Pulse

Can Morsi, Brotherhood Survive?

Article Summary
Continued massive protests are scheduled for July 2, demanding the stepping down of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power.

It is quite an image to fathom or comprehend. One year ago, Morsi stood in the center of Tahrir Square with relatively minimal protection, opening his jacket to cheering crowds in the ultra-packed square to show them that he wore no bulletproof vest, as he knew he was safe among them. The crowd was visibly a diverse one, even if the Islamist presence was somewhat expectedly predominant. Still, it represented the wide multi-ideological revolutionary coalition that allowed Morsi his slim margin of victory of just 51.7% against his opponent. And despite how many in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were apprehensive of the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood president, there was still a general willingness to give him a chance, and to be proven wrong in suspicions or preconceived notions. The media was also ostensibly willing to be positively surprised. By early November, it seemed as if Morsi was turning out to be at least more capable than expected, and he could end up succeeding in making a mark as a local and international statesman.

Today, no one even knows for sure where Morsi is right now. In fact, there are even claims that Morsi, presidency staffers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders are banned from travel by the military. The country has seen what were certainly the largest protests ever in its history — and in the region — on June 30, and it is set for massive protests again on July 2, with Egyptians demanding Morsi resigns in favor of early presidential elections. The military has issued a statement giving 48 hours for the “people’s demands” to be met before it comes out with a “road map” of its own, while somehow stressing that it also will not go back into “the circle of governance.” Military choppers sporting Egyptian flags continued to circle Tahrir in what seemed to be a direct message of support to roaring crowds. And throughout the day on July 1, following the military’s statement, people walked with flags in hand in the streets or hang them from their apartment buildings and honked at cars and passersby, even more so than on June 30.

Everyone is celebrating as if Morsi is gone without a doubt. The Ministry of Interior also issued a statement siding with the military and promised “not to let down the people.” The opposition National Salvation Front has also come out in support of the military statement, though the opposition is really not the primary player here in any case. What’s even more remarkable is that Salafi party Al-Nour and the Salafi Call, its parent organization, have just come out in support of early presidential elections, a technocratic government and constitutional amendments, in one of the biggest blows to Morsi and the Brotherhood. And as of now, five ministers have resigned — including Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr — at 1:30 a.m. local time, three governors (according to my uncertain count, given how blurry the news is) have also left office, many Muslim Brotherhood headquarters have, regrettably, been burned down and ransacked, including the main building in Moqattam. The list goes on. In fact, even US President Barack Obama seems to have taken a small step back.

The Brotherhood and the presidency canceled their own scheduled pressers following the military’s. Instead, the presidency issued a statement at 1:10 a.m. local time, in which it said it was informed of the military statement before it came out, and it found problems with syntax that “might cause confusion in the national scene.” It also stressed again on the “civil state,” and that Morsi was still engaged in national reconciliation. Instead of the Brotherhood statement, the “national coalition for the support of legitimacy” — pretty much an Islamist coalition — has come out to acknowledge the number of Egyptians in the streets but called for counterprotests “in all the squares of Egypt” on July 2 in support of Morsi, stressed on dialogue as well as the constitutional framework and nonviolence as a way to solve the situation. Meanwhile, the pro-Morsi sit-in in Rabaa has maintained a defiant tone, with one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders, Mohamed Ibrahim al-Beltagy, reportedly stating that they “won’t allow early presidential elections over our dead bodies.” (Note: at the time of writing this piece, the pro-Morsi sit-in in Rabaa appears to have dispersed a bit, potentially to regroup in other areas.)

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Can Morsi and the Brotherhood still hang on to power?

It is hard to see how Morsi could do so. As of now, Morsi and the Brotherhood find themselves with many turned against them today: the military, Ministry of Interior, the judiciary, former cabinet ministers, Salafists, the leaderships of Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church — which have not issued statements to my knowledge — possibly much of the Foreign Ministry, the intelligence and national bureaucracy, the private media — even the state media seemingly turned against them on July 1, with unconfirmed reports the military has assumed control of the building — and a historic and euphoric turnout of people across the country who are already celebrating what they see as a fait accompli. The president now seemingly has mainly the backing of his parent organization and more radical Islamist entities such as the Jama'a al-Islamiya, which harms his image further and further.

The problem is that the Brotherhood’s supporters have been strongly charged up over the past few days and up until now — between claims of defending democratic legitimacy and standing up for religion against alleged enemies — but perhaps more so the idea that if Morsi leaves power they would be persecuted — potentially even worse now than under Mubarak. It is easy to see where these fears could come from, and they legitimately do have much to worry about, especially in light of the current public mood.

This largely leaves Morsi and the Brotherhood with three options, assuming indeed that only his resignation would be accepted by the wider public, as the national sentiment appears to be right now. The first is to just resign briskly enough with minimal damage, and try to make sure the Brotherhood remains a full part of the political process, while engaging in a new extended face-lift of the 85-year-old organization — an argument I have made yesterday. The variant of this is to try and weather out the storm long enough and hold a few rallies to create some popular cover for a hopefully safer exit and/or a greater chance at more certain continued political integration and compromise — which is what the Brotherhood could be trying now given reasonable fears of crackdown. The other option is to go on an all-out “battle until the end” — which they would most likely lose, while starkly weakening the likelihood of retaining any continued normal political presence — and in the process risk complete self-obliteration, while substantially bringing down the country along.

A lot can be legitimately debated about whether or not what is happening is good for Egypt and its nascent democracy, the conduct of the different forces involved and whether or not Egypt’s first democratically elected president and ruling party had indeed crossed the line to deserve all of this. But one thing cannot be denied, and that is almost every imaginable major national entity and force out there — coupled by an unprecedented popular outpour — is remarkably demanding that Morsi steps down, something almost unimaginable perhaps a few days ago. Setting the Brotherhood aside, it is in fact an even wider array and public outpour than that which actually demanded Mubarak’s resignation. It remains utterly stunning to see how a president and a ruling party could go in one year from being virtually on top of the world to now incredulously fighting for survival.

Bassem Sabry is a writer and Egyptian blogger who covers the region on An Arab Citizen. On Twitter: @Bassem_Sabry. On email:

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Found in: tahrir square, tahrir, muslim, egyptian politics, egypt protests, egypt

Bassem Sabry is an Egyptian political writer and commentator. On Twitter: @Bassem_Sabry

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