Egypt’s Opposition Launches New Campaign to Highlight Grievances

Egyptian opposition groups have launched a new campaign to call for a vote of no-confidence in President Mohammed Morsi by collecting the signatures of Egyptian citizens throughout the country.

al-monitor Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi attends a signing ceremony with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto Palace, May 8, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino.

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May 14, 2013

"I, the undersigned, of my full volition as a member of the National Assembly of the Egyptian people, hereby announce that I withdraw confidence from the President of the Republic, Dr. Mohammed Morsi Isa al-Ayyat, and I call for the holding of early presidential elections. I hold fast to the goals of the revolution, and working toward attaining them and spreading a campaign of insurrection among the ranks of the public so that together, we can bring about a society of dignity, justice and freedom."

With these short lines, opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi inaugurated a popular campaign under the label Tamarrud [Arabic for rebellion] to call for a vote of no-confidence in Morsi by collecting the signatures of Egyptian citizens across the country's various provinces.

The Tamarrud campaign first began about two weeks ago, but it has grown exponentially in recent days. A number of active and influential parties, blocs and movements have announced that they are joining the campaign. Among them are members of the Constitution Party, the Popular Trend, the "We Will Liberate Them" campaign, and the April 6 Youth Movement, which announced their participation in the campaign shortly after their general coordinator, Ahmed Maher, was arrested by Egyptian authorities.

The Tamarrud campaign's influence has widened enough to aggravate the government to the extent that security leaks speak of Morsi demanding a comprehensive report on the campaign and how to deal with it. At the same time, Muslim Brotherhood leaders have embarked on a media blitz against it. This includes Subhi Saleh, who described the rebellion as a kind of "jealousy", and Ahmad al-Mughayyir, a well-known leader of the Brotherhood's youth who demanded that the campaign's members have their Egyptian citizenship revoked.

The security forces have also embarked upon campaigns to arrest university students who participate in this campaign. Four students at Sohag University have already been arrested, as have 10 others at Cairo University. They have been charged with "spreading lies to disturb the public peace," one of the charges inherited from the days of former President Hosni Mubarak.

The platform of the Tamarrud campaign contains a clear reference to "the legal proceedings" for withdrawing confidence in the government, but it [cites its grievances with the Egyptian government] in the simple language of Egyptian colloquial dialect: "because the security [forces] still haven't left the streets, because the poor still have no place, because we are still begging from the outside world, because the martyrs [of the revolution] still haven't been given their due, because neither I nor my country have their dignity, because the economy has collapsed, because [the government] is beholden to the Americans."

The Tamarrud campaign was launched by youth from the Kefaya Movement, one of the first popular protest movements against the Mubarak regime. Yesterday [May 12], its organizers held a press conference at the Nabdh al-Hayat Center (a medical center specializing in treating heart and blood diseases) in the Dokki neighborhood of Cairo to announce how many signatures had been collected. They confirmed that they had succeeded in collecting more than 2 million signatures from 26 provinces calling for no-confidence in the Morsi government and the holding of new presidential elections.

The signatories to the Tamarrud petition calling for a no-confidence in the government included 700,000 names from Cairo, followed by 200,000 from the Western province, 195,000 from Dakahleya, 190,000 from Qalubiya, and 180,000 from Alexandria.

It is notable that all of these provinces voted against Morsi and for the Muslim Brotherhood's opponents in the presidential elections 10 months ago. Furthermore, it appears as though the campaign is meeting with difficulty in collecting the same percentage of signatures in provinces of Upper Egypt or the border provinces. The campaign eked out 40,000 signatures form Sohag, 10,000 from Menia, while in the Matruh province bordering Libya, a mere 55,000 signatures were garnered. These provinces all voted for Morsi by whopping margins.

It is difficult to offer a precise analysis of these figures at the moment, but all indications point in the direction that the Tamarrud is on track to become an extremely potent factor in the political conflict between secular and Islamist forces. The country's Islamists have fallen in line to defend "an Islamist president" [even] "if it demands bloodshed," as Muhammad al-Zawahiri, a jihadist leader who publicly threatened to raise up arms against any secular party that were to prevail in the elections and attempt to govern.

But what is the next move for the Tamarrud campaign?

According to a statement released yesterday [May 12], the movement called upon all active, patriotic groups, all public figures, bodies and strata of Egyptian society, and all parties and unions to join the campaign.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), the largest umbrella group for the secular opposition, has already expressed support for the Tamarrud campaign. One member described its activities to As-Safir as "one of the means of carrying out a peaceful struggle to change despotic regimes." The source preferred to remain anonymous, however, until a final consensus is formed between members of the NSF to support the Tamarrud campaign and a formal announcement to that effect is issued.

Despite that, former Presidential candidate, founder of the Popular Trend, and NSF leader Hamdeen Sabahi has already announced in an interview with state television several days ago that he supports the Tamarrud campaign and called upon Egyptians to sign their declaration.

The spokesman for the Tamarrud campaign, Mahmoud Badr, stated that the group is hoping to collect 15 million signatures, a number that would exceed by 2 million the number of votes garnered by Morsi in the runoff round of the last presidential election. He also specified a June 30 deadline for the campaign, by which time a full year will have passed since Morsi ascended to power, and stated that the campaign would be crowned on the same day with a massive demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace calling for no-confidence in Morsi.

According to Badr, "The Egyptian people put their trust in him, and it is their right to withdraw that trust from him."

Some have noted an apparent similarity between the Tamarrud campaign and Egyptians' deputation of authority to Saad Zaghloul and his confederates to form a delegation that would represent the people and speak in their name during the confrontation with the British occupation in 1919. Nevertheless, writer Salah Issa told As-Safir that there is no precedent for the experiment now being conducted by the Tamarrud campaign in terms of withdrawing confidence from an elected president.

He explained that "every phase [of Egyptian history] has innovated new forms of opposition. The Jan. 25 Revolution invented many revolutionary tactics pertaining to its unique character, [and due to] the absence of active parties and the use of the Internet." Still, he noted an event similar to the signature-gathering initiative to which he was a party when he was the chief editor of the Al-Ahali opposition newspaper in 1986. The newspaper had begun to collect people's signatures to a petition demanding that army conscript Suleiman Khater not be tried for killing an Israeli soldier on the border. Some 50,000 signatures were garnered, and presented to the seat of government at Abdeen palace. Despite this, Khater was brought to trial, and Egyptian authorities subsequently announced that he killed himself in prison.

Issa concluded by saying that "protest movements only achieve their ends gradually. What happened on Jan. 25 [2011] was simply the result of a number popular protest movements. The Tamarrud campaign might eventually lead to some form of explosion such as what transpired on Jan. 25."

But Deputy Secretary-General for the Freedom and Justice Party Amr Zaki, speaking with evident anxiety, downplayed the importance of the campaign. At the start of his conversation with As-Safir, he asked, "Tamarrud who?" before going on to say that "the numbers announced by the campaign mean that more than 2 million Egyptian citizens do not want Egypt to be free of the old regime. Indeed, they are supporters of the old regime."

In an explicit attack, he added that "this faction had interests from which it profits every day to the tune of tens and hundreds of thousands of Egyptian pounds [at the expense of] the Egyptian people's daily bread. They cannot be expected to give up on these interests so easily." He stressed that "the Muslim Brotherhood will not allow them to do this; they don't have the right to talk about early elections. It's the president's right to remain in office for four years. The people issued their verdict when they voted in the referendum on the constitution. Who but a fool, glutton, or someone seeking the reins of power for themselves would go on speaking after hearing the people's verdict?"

For his part, the former adviser to the president, Ayman al-Sayyad, said, "Of course, there is nothing in the constitution or the law that has any bearing on initiating a political change by collecting signatures. But at the end of the day, the people will decide the matter, whether through the ballot box or in the streets." In his words, "The numbers, if they are correct, are a sign."

He added further, "I think that everything pertaining to the president's popularity is being taken into consideration," noting that the Freedom and Justice Party released a statement yesterday [May 12] enumerating the president's accomplishments. "I think the reason for this statement," according to Sayyad, "is connected to the Tamarrud movement."

Thus it appears that the “Rebellion” will become another open point of contention for opposing scenarios. Either it will push the political conflict to a decisive tipping point in the street (if its numbers bear out and are believed), or it will convince secular opposition forces of the risk or futility of [relying on] the street, and that elections are a safer, more secure, and more profitable means.

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