Egypt on the edge as Mursi defies army ultimatum

02 July 2013

Egyptian president losing support quickly as protests intensify

Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi is standing in defiance of the 48-hour ultimatum given by the army, despite an overwhelming display of no confidence in his leadership.

His chances of survival now look slim, and his action looks set to put Egypt on an even longer and more damaging path than the one it was already on.

On 1 July, Defence Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave both the president and the opposition 48 hours to reach some form of reconciliation, warning that if the government fails to fulfil “the will of the people”, the army will intervene with its own “roadmap” for Egypt’s future.

What the roadmap involves is unknown, although the army has insisted it is not looking to launch a military coup or to rule Egypt.

Mursi is rapidly losing support. It now appears he has lost the support of the people, the police, the military and even some members of his own party.

On 30 June, Tahrir Square was packed with protesters voicing their anger at Mursi’s inability to tackle Egypt’s failing economy and his attempts to increase his own constitutional powers. 

What started out as a grassroots protest movement known as Tamarod, or Rebel, has quickly spawned into a nationwide campaign over the past few months, with a petition calling for Mursi to step down reportedly collecting 22 million signatures. In 2012, Mursi was elected as president with 13 million votes.

The president also appears to have lost the support of the police. Observers in Cairo say police officers in Tahrir Square were heard chanting against the regime. The lack of police protection was highlighted when the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo was ransacked on 30 June.

With the stark 48-hour warning from the army, Mursi seems to losing support from the military.

Within his own government, there have been at least six resignations so far, including foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amri.

And yet, for the time being Mursi is holding onto power and he has publicly rejected the army’s ultimatum. If Mursi insists on this course, there are likely to be further clashes between protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood. This could force the army to step in to avoid a breakdown in public order.

Some observers in Egypt also report that Mursi supporters are ramping up their efforts to back the president, broadcasting their retorts to the protest movement on Muslim Brotherhood TV. 

One local analyst says: “Bottom line, they are preparing for confrontation and incidences of violence are increasing at an alarming pace.”

However, it is far from clear what a post-Mursi Egypt would look like, in the event the president decides to step down this week.

The anti-government protesters are from a broad spectrum of Egyptian society, including some who had supported Mursi’s presidential bid.

It is also unlikely protesters would be happy with a return to military rule given the level of violence, corruption and the sharp economic downturn witnessed last time the army took control in 2011 immediately after the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

In the event that new elections are called, there is also a chance a more extreme Islamic political figure could be voted into power, which would not go down well with protesters who were angry at the growing level of influence the Muslim Brotherhood held over Egypt.

The protest movement is united by its anger and resentment against Mursi. If Mursi is no longer in power, those fragile loyalties will quickly dissolve. What is left behind could be even more worrying for the future of Egypt.

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