A replay of Mubarak’s twilight, this time with Morsi?
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Analysis

A replay of Mubarak’s twilight, this time with Morsi?

Egypt’s previous president thought the army would stand with him; a year after inauguration, his elected successor knows that’s not the case

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

An Egyptian supporter of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi dances by a poster of Morsi during a rally outside the Rabia el-Adawiya mosque near the presidential palace in Cairo, Saturday, June 29 (photo credit: APAmr Nabil)
An Egyptian supporter of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi dances by a poster of Morsi during a rally outside the Rabia el-Adawiya mosque near the presidential palace in Cairo, Saturday, June 29 (photo credit: APAmr Nabil)

Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbol of the February 2011 revolution, was taken over Saturday evening by thousands of anti-Morsi protesters —  members of Tamarod, the youth groups who organized Sunday’s planned mass protest. Dozens of tents were pitched and throngs of people swarmed into the square, preparing for the biggest-ever demonstration against President Mohammed Morsi since he took office a year ago.

Meanwhile, near the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque in the Nasser neighborhood of the capital, thousands of Morsi supporters — albeit fewer than their opponents in Tahrir Square — gathered in an impressive show of force. There, too, tents were raised, these by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who hope to not be swept aside by the secular opposition.

The prevailing sense in Cairo, as well as cities like Alexandria and Port Said, is that the fuel fumes are already in the air, and that an explosion Sunday is all but unavoidable.

In the run-up to Sunday, eight people have been killed and hundreds have been wounded in clashes between the two rival camps. In Port Said, an explosive device was hurled at opposition protesters, causing the death of an Egyptian journalist, and violence between Morsi supporters and opponents has been recorded in other cities too. An American Jewish college student, watching the clashes in Alexandria, was stabbed to death. And the real street battle has yet to begin.

Many in Egypt hope that the military will be able to prevent a deterioration into civil war, even at the price of establishing military rule. It is doubtful that the army wants to go down such a path. Egypt’s Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who hinted last week that the army will intervene if the violence becomes unbearable, realizes the implications of shoving aside an elected president in favor of military rule — even if only temporarily.

Egyptian Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the presidential headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday, February 21, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mohammed Abd El Moaty, Egyptian Presidency)
Egyptian Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the presidential headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday, February 21, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mohammed Abd El Moaty, Egyptian Presidency)

A-Sisi and his friends learned from the experiences of Hussein Tantawi, who headed the Military Council that succeeded Mubarak, that sooner or later public anger will turn on them. Still, the army could be forced to intervene in order to regain stability, in a matter of days rather than weeks.

This underlines a first major problem for Morsi: Even if the June 30 incidents don’t end in his ouster, as Tamarod demands, his position has been significantly weakened.

The young people leading the revolt claim they’ve collected the signatures of 22 million citizens who demand he leave office, a little less than twice the number who voted him into office (13.2 million).

A question mark now hovers above his legitimacy, as Egypt’s secular population has managed to unify around a single shared goal: new presidential elections.

The protests against him — there were 9,427 of them in his first year, according to a Cairo research institute — have already crippled Egypt’s economy, and will only intensify and make things harder for him and for the country.

Morsi’s second problem, no less significant than his political weakness, relates to his physical well-being. According to Egyptian media reports, the president and his family were transferred over the weekend to a safe house under the protection of the Presidential Guard (which claimed it could not protect him in his residence on the outskirts of Cairo.) The Presidential Palace was also reportedly emptied of staff.

In essence, Morsi — who has never enjoyed the close relationship with the army that Hosni Mubarak did — is now completely dependent on a-Sisi and his men.

When the social protests first erupted in January 2011, the common belief was that the army would stand by president Mubarak and defend his regime. That was a mistaken assessment, and Tantawi’s decision not to intervene paved the way for the completion of the revolution. Now, it’s clear that the army does not stand behind Morsi, and is mainly concerned with protecting its own interests.

One year after his inauguration, the position of Egypt’s first elected president is thus as precarious as was Mubarak’s shortly before he fell, if not worse. The public on one hand, and the defense minister on the other, will determine, and fairly soon, whether Morsi’s fate will be any different.

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