A protester, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, holds a book titled President Morsi Building a New Egypt in front of the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo’s Moqattam district July 1, 2013. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
UPDATE 2:40 pm: According to the Guardian, President Morsi plans to defy the military ultimatum. His office has declared that he will face down what they call a “military coup.” Morsi, leader of the secretive Muslim Brotherhood, reportedly believes that President Obama will not allow the Egyptian military to seize power if the Brotherhood defies the generals. Reports the Guardian:
"Obviously we feel this is a military coup," a presidential aide said. "But the conviction within the presidency is that [the coup] won't be able to move forward without American approval."
That’s a huge problem for Obama. Already, the protesters believe that the United States is backing the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo. The truth is, the United States has leverage over the military, since it supplies aid to the armed forces, but Washington hardly controls either the military or the Muslim Brotherhood. During the fall of the Mubarak government in 2011, the United States was virtually on the sidelines, unable either to prop up Mubarak, control the generals, or connect with the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition.
So, if Morsi believe that Obama can rescue him (or wants to), he may have a big surprise coming.
UPDATE 2:25 pm: Egypt’s military has started a coup d’etat of sorts, delivering an ultimatum to President Morsi to make a deal with protesters – or else. [See below for my earlier post, which discusses how the police and the military are backing the street rebellion.] As Reuters reports:
Egypt's armed forces handed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi a virtual ultimatum to share power on Monday, giving feuding politicians 48 hours to compromise or have the army impose its own roadmap for the country.
A dramatic military statement broadcast on state television declared the nation was in danger after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on Sunday to demand that Morsi quit and the headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood were ransacked.
ORIGINAL POST: Readers of this blog know what I think about the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk: the Brotherhood is a secretive, reactionary cult. It is a conspiracy-minded, cell-based clique of right-wing Islamists, many of whose members are violence-prone.
So my readers won’t be surprised that I’m lining up with the protesters in Egypt. President Mohamed Morsi has to go.
He won’t go easy. As they did at several moments of its past—the 1930s and the 1950s, for instance—the Brothers are mobilizing a paramilitary force to defend its grasp on power. But they’re losing their grip, not least because the Egyptian national police has essentially thrown its lot in with the millions of people who’ve taken to the streets of Cairo and other cities, and the military is slyly suggesting that it’s neutral in the political battle unfolding in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
So far, the United States is staying neutral, although it’s hard to believe that the Department of Defense and the generals in Washington aren’t busily consorting with their Egyptian colleagues. The threat of a military coup d’état hangs over Cairo, but in this case the majority of the protesters—who’ve already declared an alliance with the police—seem to favor at least a temporary seizure of power by the armed forces. The problem with that scenario, however, is that it could inflame Egypt and lead directly to a civil war, pitting the army and police against the Islamists. Which is pretty much what’s happening in Syria.
In fact, the only real public comment by the Obama administration thus far—aside from boilerplate comments about supporting the rule of law—is about steps taken to secure the American embassy. That’s a legacy of the trumped-up, Fox News–driven phony controversy over the violence at America’s outpost in Benghazi last September, and it’s a sad commentary that the United States is so preoccupied with the safety of its diplomats when the entire nation of Egypt is teetering on the brink of chaos. But there’s little that the United States can do, other than to suggest that the military stay in its barracks. Still, the United States ought to reiterate over and over again that it doesn’t support the Muslim Brotherhood. By all accounts, the protesters in Egypt believe that Washington backs the Brothers’ rule—perhaps because the United States supplies billions of dollars in military aid to Egypt.
But the real backers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are the reactionary states of the Persian Gulf, especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These are the same countries who support Syria’s Islamist rebels, who are dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and allies further to the right. And the Saudi-Qatar billionaires and sheikhs are also among the chief backers of Turkey’s reactionary and authoritarian-minded Prime Minister Erdogan and his AK party. They’ve also poured billions into support for Islamists in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq, as well.
The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial, says:
Mr. Morsi insists he’ll serve out his four-year term, and the military is reluctant to take over again. But another coup is possible if the unrest turns more violent and the economy keeps sinking. The best solution now is a compromise in which Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood drop their attempts at political domination, share power with opponents and write a more liberal constitution, and focus on reviving the economy. The alternatives are all ugly.
That’s fairly accurate, but there are few signs that Morsi is ready to compromise. Since taking power, he’s rammed through a constitution that favors the Muslim Brotherhood, cracked down on free expression, and issued an anti-democratic diktat that allows him to rule virtually by decree. There is no elected parliament to reign him in, and in any case the Muslim Brotherhood controlled the parliament that was elected and then disbanded by court order.
According to The New York Times, the Cairo protests are even larger than the ones that led to the fall of President Mubarak in 2011—and those crowds, you’ll recall, were bolstered by the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-organized supporters. Many of the protesters are calling on Defense Minister Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi to intervene, that is, for a coup. According to Al Jazeera, the protest movement issued a statement calling on “state institutions including the army, the police and the judiciary to clearly side with the popular will as represented by the crowds.”
Sisi, in a sphinxlike statement, said that the army would “intervene to keep Egypt from sliding into a dark tunnel of conflict, internal fighting, criminality, accusations of treason, sectarian discord and the collapse of state institutions.” That sounds very much like he’s getting ready to order a coup if the situation spins out of control, and it might. Indeed, Sisi’s comment sounds like an incitement to the anti-Morsi forces.
The police, which have stood by as protesters sought to set fire to the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, have clearly taken sides. Reports the Times:
At a recent meeting of the main police officers’ association to discuss the planned protests, one policeman recalled their “betrayal” by the collapse of the Mubarak government and called their current diminished status “a catastrophe.” Alluding to Mr. Morsi’s time in jail for his Islamist politics, the officer denounced “people who were in prison and are now presidents,” and he said that if even a single officer went to protect a Brotherhood office on Sunday, “I swear to God almighty, he will be shot.”
Gen. Salah Zeyada, a senior Interior Ministry official on the association’s board, reassured him. “We all agree, brothers, that there will be no security provided for headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
The police association made no secret of its disaffection: it posted a video clip of the exchange on its Facebook page, and activists opposed to the Brotherhood have cited it as encouragement.
The anti-Morsi forces—under the name Tamarod (“rebellion”)—are broadly based, including secular and middle-class Egyptians, the left, Nasserists and socialists, current and former security forces and former Mubarak officials, and Egypt’s minorities, including Shiites and Coptic Christians who’ve been attacked and persecuted under the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. In its statement, Tamarod said:
“There is no alternative other than the peaceful end of power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its representative, Mohamed Morsi.”
But Morsi isn’t showing signs of compromise, as evidenced by an interview with The Guardian:
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Morsi rejected opposition calls for early presidential elections and said he would not tolerate any deviation from constitutional order. He said his early resignation would undermine the legitimacy of his successors, creating a recipe for unending chaos.
“If we changed someone in office who [was elected] according to constitutional legitimacy—well, there will be people opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later they will ask him to step down,” Morsi said.
“There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy. There can be demonstrations and people expressing their opinions. But what’s critical in all this is the adoption and application of the constitution. This is the critical point.”
How did Egypt get here? Sharif Abdel Kouddous explains why, one year after Morsi took office, Egyptians are marching again to demand his removal.