The massive demonstrations that began Sunday in several cities across Egypt exceeded expectations of supporters and adversaries alike. The continuing protests — remarkable not just for their enormous size but their far-reaching popular demands — herald a new phase of the revolution that successfully deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Tamarod, a new grassroots movement whose name means “rebel” or “rebellion” in Arabic, staged the demonstrations with the goals of forcing early presidential elections and “upholding the goals of revolution.” Following Sunday’s sweeping protests, it issued an ultimatum to President Mohammed Morsi to either resign by Tuesday afternoon or face “complete civil disobedience.”
Taking into account the police repression and resulting anxieties that have dramatically reduced the size of protests this year, Tamarod organizers switched tactical gears to prepare for June 30.
“The rationale behind ‘Rebel’ is to move the revolution from the squares, in which demonstrations are held, to society at large,” Tamarod leader Abdel-Aziz told English.Ahram.org, the website of Egypt’s largest circulation daily newspaper, Ahram.
Instead of calling for another demonstration, the movement initiated a broad educational campaign with the ambitious intention of gathering 15 million signatures calling for early presidential elections in order to oust Morsi and to release the ever-tightening grip of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The petition, addressed to the Morsi government, declares “we reject you” before each of a series of complaints about the ills plaguing the new Egypt, among them: “because security has not been established,” “because we are still begging loans from the outside,” and “because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the United States.”
Ultimately, as June 30 protests approached, Egyptian news agencies reported that 22 million people signed the petitions.
By contrast, President Morsi was elected in June 2012 with 13 million votes, by the narrow margin of 51 percent. Morsi’s critics note that voters were left with only two choices in the final election round: Morsi and deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak’s cohort, Ahmed Shafik. Others indicated they voted for Morsi because they believed his religious values enhanced his promises to address the country’s grave social problems.
But, from the very first days of the new government, there were a series of missteps, including an incendiary presidential declaration by Morsi that his decisions would be immune from judicial review. This apparent usurpation of power inflamed and outraged much of the population.
Opposition continued to grow once it became clear that neither were Morsi’s religious values leading to needed economic and social reforms.
Though the conflict embroiling Egypt is often described in the terms of secular versus Islamic terms, this conceals the country’s real economic and social problems and their heritage in U.S. and European investment and aid policies. As one young woman told me during a Tahrir protest last February, “Most of us protesting are also Muslim, so it has nothing to do with Morsi being Muslim. It has everything to do with what he is doing to our country.”
On July 1, the Egyptian army brass announced that it would “give [all parties] 48 hours, as a last chance, to take responsibility for the historic circumstances the country is going through.”
“If the demands of the people are not met in this period,” the televised broadcast statement read, the army “will announce a future roadmap and measures to oversee its implementation.”The military appears extremely reluctant to intervene directly, and Muslim Brotherhood allies described the armed forces’ response as “ambiguous.”
Though the popular defense forces were embraced by many as liberators after dictator Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011, the army failed to enact meaningful reforms during the year that it held power prior to the 2012 election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi. While a significant segment of the Egyptian population might be willing to accept another takeover by the military as an alternative to Morsi, leaders of Tamarod have rejected this option in public statements.
It is more likely that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued the deadline as a veiled threat in order to exert maximum pressure on both the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) to come to some kind of agreement, such as a coalition government.
In the past, the Muslim Brotherhood totally rejected such efforts. At the same time, important radical leaders have chided their timid NSF partners in the Tamarod movement for their willingness to discard the fight for genuine reforms in exchange for seats in government.
Certainly, any government that agrees to cuts to food and fuel subsidies as a precondition for International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans risks setting off a “revolution of the hungry.” It’s likely this dangerous dilemma that has forestalled Morsi from approving pending IMF and World Bank offers of loans with such onerous stipulations attached.
The Tamarod education campaign has begun a number of important discussions crucial to Egypt’s future: The separation of church and state in a civil society, the recognition of international standards of labor and women’s rights, increases to the minimum wage and social subsidies, and protection of state property and an end to private investment schemes.
Building an effective mass organization and establishing political clarity among the various strands of opinion within society is an extremely difficult task. The necessary mass political organization of the courageous Egyptian people still severely lags behind their individual political courage and determination to make radical changes but, as a result of Tamarod’s efforts leading up to June 30, that gap has begun to close.