By Muhammad al-Khouli
Egypt is living January 2011 all over again. But this time, Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood have replaced Hosni Mubarak and the once-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) as the antagonists.
While there were pro-Mursi protests on Sunday, June 30, it soon became clear that the opposition supporters outnumbered the Mursi supporters. The final say, however, will belong to the public squares and streets of Egypt, which the whole world seems to be closely watching, in anticipation of the ultimate outcome.
Although the Egyptian health ministry reported 16 killed, the demonstrations were remarkably peaceful. This contradicted all voices of doom that had warned against an imminent civil war.
Even though Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the guru of Islamists in the Arab world, was present in the flesh at the pro-Mursi rally at the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque, many Islamist leaders were absent after it became clear that their strongholds had defected to the opposition.
Whatever the case, the June 30 uprising has barely begun, and it does not appear that the activists occupying the public squares intend to leave without achieving their demands. Regardless of whether the reclaimed revolution will succeed in toppling Mursi or not, his Muslim Brotherhood-led regime has been dealt a serious blow.
True, the Egyptian anti-Mursi protests, held at the initiative of the “Tamarrud” campaign, have a quintessentially internal agenda, but its implications will no doubt reverberate throughout the entire region.
On the Ground
It is as though we are reliving the first Friday after 25 January 2011: Huge crowds, which some estimated to be in the vicinity of 10 million, made their way to public squares in various Egyptian governorates to protest Mursi’s rule.
Despite widespread fears of possible violence and civil strife, Sunday came and went in relative peace, with one exception being a shooting in Upper Egypt that claimed four lives. People throughout Egypt protested nonviolently against the Muslim Brotherhood-led regime on the day that marked a year after Mursi took office.
With the early morning hours, crowds began pouring into Tahrir Square in central Cairo, while other demonstrations went to al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, calling for the downfall of the regime and demanding snap presidential elections. Similarly, crowds in many provinces of the Nile Delta began to gather in the early morning outside government buildings.
Interestingly, millions took to the streets in Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, and Aswan, all supposed Islamist strongholds.
In Cairo, eight demonstrations marched to al-Ittihadiya and four to Tahrir Square. Though these protests were announced in advance, surprisingly, there were other spontaneous protests that erupted in Cairo’s slums. Yet in all these places, the slogans were one and the same, and demanded an end to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and early presidential elections.
Student protests originating at the Cairo University also joined the Tahrir demonstrations. The protesters held up red cards, like soccer penalty cards used to eject players, to make their point about Mursi. Others displayed signs with the word “Leave” in 20 different languages.
A group of police officers held a protest of their own, and marched towards Tahrir, along with former Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal El Din. Protesters carried police officers on their shoulders, chanting, “The army, the police, and the people are all one hand.”
Political heavyweights also took part in the protests, including the president of the Dustur Party Mohammed el-Baradei, the leader of the Popular Movement Hamdeen Sabahi, the president of the Free Egyptians Party Ahmed Said, the head of the Egyptian Democratic Party Mohamed Abul-Ghar, and the leader of the Democratic Front Party Osama al-Ghazali.
Abul-Ghar stressed that it was high time for the regime to go, and said that Mursi “would have no choice but to comply with the demands of the people.” He then called on protesters to stand their ground until the end, and said that they must not leave the public squares until the regime goes. This appeal was then echoed by several opposition party leaders present at the protest.
Meanwhile, people who stayed at home found ways to interact with the protests, seen standing on balconies and making victory signs or chanting anti-Mursi slogans.
The opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) issued a statement on the occasion, and said, “The Egyptian people will continue their revolution, and impose their will that appeared very clear in the ‘Tahrir Squares’ of Egypt.” Later, on Sunday evening, the NSF issued another statement, calling on the Egyptians to protest in the public squares, and said, “There is no choice for President Mursi but to step down.”
In turn, the Coptic Pope Tawadros II appealed to the Egyptian people to express their opinions respectfully and without violence. In a statement, he said, “For us all, Egypt is our country. The land of the Nile accommodates us all, and it is our duty to safeguard it without violence or aggression.”
Strikingly, there were few international reactions to the protests, with the exception of an ambiguous tweet by US President Barack Obama. If anything, this indicates that all sides are cautious about what outcome to expect in Egypt, and want to be more certain before declaring any stance.
On Twitter, Obama wrote that he supports change through peaceful protests. Commenting on Obama’s tweet, former Egyptian ambassador to Washington Nabil Fahmy was quoted by Al-Yawm Al-Sabei as saying that the US was re-assessing its position on the events in Egypt. Fahmy went on to say that with the growing number of people opposed to President Mursi, “The US has started taking the middle ground, as happened during the January 25 protests.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition