Just over one year ago, on June 29, Mohammed Morsi chose Tahrir Square to deliver his first address as president-elect of Egypt.
“There is no power above people power,” he declared. “Today you are the source of this power. You give this power to whomever you want and you withhold it from whomever you want.” But twelve months later, Morsi would be unable to set foot in Tahrir, his words coming back to haunt him as millions took to the streets calling for his ouster in the largest protest in Egypt’s history.
The mass mobilization on June 30 eclipsed even the 2011 demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak; a few days later, on July 3, the army forced Morsi out of office, in what amounted to a military coup. His year-long tenure ended with a televised address by the head of SCAF, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, himself appointed by Morsi less than a year earlier.
Tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir, jubilant at the news. The incessant drone of vuvuzelas mixed with a cacophony of drums, whistles and cheering, as the sky lit up with fireworks and green lasers. “Morsi’s gone and we are finally taking a step forward,” said a man named Shady, 38, who lives across the city but came to join the celebrations. “I don’t see this as a military coup,” he added. “The army is not trying to take control. The people are the source of all legitimacy and they took the power away from the president.”
That a popular revolt facilitated Morsi’s ouster is undeniable. But it has also solidified the military’s role as the final arbiter of power in Egypt. Following the June 30 protests, SCAF leaders gave Morsi a forty-eight-hour window to resolve the mounting political crisis. It came and went; as rival protests escalated and clashes broke out across the country, the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood were burned and looted and at least forty-eight people were killed and hundreds more wounded.
On the night of July 2, Morsi delivered a defiant speech that would be his final address as president. He warned that the country may descend into an endless spiral of violence if his “legitimate” right to rule as elected president was challenged. He repeated the word “legitimacy” dozens of times, at one point going so far as to say that he was willing to die if his claim to power was not honored.
The next day, the army deployed troops and armor at key locations across the country, tightening its grip on major thoroughfares and surrounding two large rallies that had formed in support of Morsi. Just after 9 pm, Sissi delivered his highly anticipated statement. “The Egyptian Armed Forces, over the past months since November 2012, have spared no effort directly and indirectly to contain the domestic situation and conduct national reconciliation among all political powers, including the presidency,” he said. He announced that a call for national dialogue had been “positively responded to by all national political powers but declined in the last minute by the presidency.”
Sissi , who never mentioned Morsi by name, declared that the chief of Egypt’s constitutional court would assume the presidency on an interim basis. A cabinet of technocrats would be formed to manage the country’s day-to-day affairs, he said, until new elections are scheduled. The country’s new constitution was suspended. In effect, Egypt had gone back to square one. Sissi’s eight-minute address erased two and a half years of a turbulent transition, marked by half a dozen cycles of elections and referenda.
Tens of thousands of Morsi’s supporters who had gathered at a the Rabaa al-Adeweya mosque in the Nasr City neighborhood, erupted in anger at the announcement, with chants of “Down with military rule” filling the air. Surrounded on several sides by soldiers and military vehicles, the crowd showed a mixture of shock, dejection and outrage. Many sat on the ground in silence, others wept openly. Closer to main stage, the frustration was more palpable. A speaker blasted the military and vowed to extend the sit-in “from six days to six years” to reclaim the president’s legitimacy. Many left the square in angry silence, only to be confronted with scenes of jubilation by those celebrating Morsi’s ouster in the streets.