Millions of Egyptian citizens are filling Cairo’s streets, parks and squares in what is becoming one of the largest protests in that nation’s history. The throngs of protesters are bitterly divided between virulent supporters of President Mohammed Morsi and those who demand his immediate resignation. With fears of widespread violence growing, a great human exodus out of Egypt has already begun, Arab media reports.
The Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads off with the headline “World fears unknown in Egypt… Travel warnings and the evacuation of nationals continues.” In the past 48 hours, more than 60,000 people have flown out of Cairo International Airport on more than 254 flights. That number is expected to top 100,000 by Tuesday afternoon.
According to the Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm, the United States has started to recall diplomats due to fears that its embassy may be attacked. A stern travel warning was issued in the wake of the killing at Friday’s protest in Alexandria of 21-year-old Andrew Pochter, an American Jewish student at Kenyon College in Ohio. Even Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are urging their citizens to immediately leave Egypt and, if they cannot, to avoid all crowded public areas.
These warnings are proving wise as spurts of violence have already erupted. Since Sunday, seven people have been killed and 600 wounded in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and their opponents. The London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat warns that if Morsi doesn’t resign in the coming days, more protesters may choose a path of violence.
The millions of protesters chanting anti-Morsi slogans and holding up red cards that demand his resignation are not as organized as the National Salvation Front would like to claim. They may not listen to the pleas of political opposition leaders to remain peaceful in the face of bat-wielding, petrol bomb-throwing Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
“We do not see ourselves aligned with them (the National Salvation Front),” a 23-year-old demonstrator was quoted as saying by the Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera. “The opposition leaders are just as bad as those who hold power. The two sides are locked in a political struggle at the expense of the people. When Mubarak was overthrown, the youth believed they must rally and give the power to someone else. Now we know that the only way to save Egypt is for the youth to take power for themselves.”
This sentiment is very worrying to Mohammed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahy, two of the main leaders of the National Salvation Front, who are not fully convinced they have sway over all factions opposed to Morsi’s rule. The Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya reports that an alternative opposition group called “The Rebellion” has issued a statement giving Morsi until Tuesday to step down.
“Morsi must leave power so that the institutions of the state will be ready to hold early presidential elections,” the statement read. “If the will of the people is not enacted, widespread civil disobedience will begin.”
It is not clear from the statement what kind of civil disobedience is meant. Nevertheless, it is worrying to opposition leaders who are losing their control over the entire non-Islamist political bloc. ElBaradei and Sabahy’s only way to regain popular support is to ally with the army to ensure stability remains. Sabahy has already publicly called on the military to intervene if Morsi does not “respect the will of the people.”
An editorial in A-Sharq Al-Awsat called “Egypt: Home first” states that the demand for early elections is in full accordance with democratic principles and has many precedents overseas.
“Europe alone saw early elections take place eight times in recent years including in Poland in 2007, in Italy in 2008, in Belgium in 2010, in Portugal and Greece in 2011, and in Spain last year,” it argues. “Early elections are not a political nightmare, but one of the most important benefits of real democracy.”
However, Abdul Bari Atwan, the outgoing editor-in-chief of the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, disagrees fervently in an op-ed of his own and believes that the opposition’s hatred of Morsi trumps any commitment to democratic values.
“Let’s say the Egyptian army intervened and seized power. The political elites of the opposition would welcome this step. But then what if they weren’t satisfied with the results? Would their reactions descend into the streets?” Atwan asks. “If President Morsi bowed to the demands of the opposition, held elections, and once again came out victorious, would the opposition accept the results? Would they accept the opinion of the people and the rule of the ballot box, or would they return to the streets again?”