Millions of Egyptians, some armed with sticks and iron bars, have occupied various squares across the country. Opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi demand his immediate resignation and fresh elections while his supporters insist they will not allow a president to be pushed out of office a year after he was constitutionally elected. There are real fears of a civil war breaking out and the military taking over, once again.
June 30, 2013, 13:51 EDT
Millions of Egyptians have packed the streets and squares of several cities in rallies against and for President Mohamed Mursi on the first anniversary of his assumption of power on June 30. The iconic Tahrir Square once again reverberates with shouts of “Irhal”—meaning leave, or as the protesters would like to translate, “Get lost.” The protesters are not only calling for Mursi’s resignation but also early presidential elections.
His supporters, gathered in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City, insist he must be allowed to complete his term in office and that an elected president cannot be forced out after a year otherwise there would be no political stability in the country. They are carrying banners denouncing the opposition calling them troublemakers and sore losers, a reference to the defeated presidential candidates that are part of the opposition protests.
A group calling itself “Tamarrud” (rebels) has collected 22 million signatures demanding Mursi’s resignation (he was elected with 13 million votes). They accuse him of failing to tackle economic and security problems since taking office a year ago. Further, they say Mursi has been concentrating power in his own hands and promoting the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party he emerged from rather than looking after the interests of all Egyptians. In the first days of his presidency, Mursi had promised to follow an inclusive policy but they have found little evidence of that so far.
While economic problems cannot be solved immediately, Mursi has demonstrably failed to take any meaningful steps. The same holds true for security. People live in fear in their neighborhoods because thugs are able to strike at will with the police doing little to apprehend them. Some of these can be linked to remnants of the old regime but with a year in office, Mursi seems to have done little to address these issues to assuage public concerns. Instead, the ongoing protests have pushed Mursi closer to the Salafis many of whom follow a rigid doctrinaire policy of intolerance. Influenced by the medieval thinking of the Saudis, these Salafis brand anyone that does not follow their narrow interpretations as a kafir, hence subject to execution (this has earned them the epithet, takfiris).
This is not mere theory; on Sunday June 23, hundreds of Salafis attacked the house of Shaykh Hassan Shehata, a Shia alim, in the village of Abu Mussalam in Giza province. The Shaykh was holding a prayer session with his followers on the occasion of Nisfu-Shaban that many Muslims observe as a night of special prayers. Shaykh Shehata and three of his companions were beaten to death and the Shaykh’s throat was cut, severing his head from his body, a trademark of the takfiris. His house was then set on fire. The takfiris denounce the Shias as non-Muslims and feel they can kill them. This kind of extremism is propagated by Saudi court preachers that has caused so much havoc in the Muslim world. Regrettably, Mursi has also endorsed this thinking with his call for jihad against the Shias in Syria!
While trying to garner support from the extremists to shore up his crumbling hold on power, Mursi’s opponents have packed the streets. In Alexandria, the second-biggest city, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered to march to the central Sidi Gaber area. Similar rallies are being held in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, Suez, Monofia and Sharqiya.
With passions running high on both sides, there is a real risk of serious clashes erupting that might escalate into civil war. Some Mursi supporters in Nasr City say they are willing to be martyrs for the cause of keeping the president in power. Many protesters are also armed with wooden sticks and iron bars, a sure sign of trouble.
Egypt is fast sliding into anarchy from which nobody but the enemies of Muslims will benefit. Should the situation get out of hand with rival groups battling it out, the army may be forced to step in wiping out any gains the people may have made since driving Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.