Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food, Fuel and Faith Divide Cairo's Streets

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food, Fuel and Faith Divide Cairo's Streets

Article excerpt

"If the price of preserving legitimacy is my blood, then I am prepared to sacrifice my blood," said Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, in a defiant speech broadcast on television around midnight on 2 July. A day earlier, the army had given him an ultimatum--fulfil the demands of the people or it would intervene. In other words, step down, or we step in.

Morsi's response was to raise the stakes. He rejected the army's "road map", derided the protesters against him as remnants of the former regime and repeatedly declared his "constitutional legitimacy", won at the ballot box last year.

The recent demonstrations feed off two currents in Egyptian politics: religion and economics. Many Egyptians feel that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have ignored secularists and other opposition parties in exercising power. At the same time, the country has been hit hard by high food and fuel prices.

The demonstrations in Cairo have been spearheaded largely by a grass-roots campaign, Tamarod (meaning "rebel"), which collected 22 million signatures calling for Morsi's resignation and demanding an interim president, a ruling technocratic council, early presidential elections and a new national constitution.

Yet the protests are not all one-sided; Morsi loyalists have been staging their own sit-ins and demos. Clashes between the two sides have claimed several lives.

We are seeing two competing visions of Egypt. Morsi and his supporters, most of whom are Islamists, say he has legitimacy as the elected president. But many Egyptians in the street maintain that democracy is about more than the ballot box. They believe Morsi has made unpopular and undemocratic decisions, such as granting himself and the Constituent Assembly immunity from judicial review.

"This is part of democracy--people have the right to come to the streets and demand this," says Mohamed Waked, co-editor of the online magazine Jadaliyya. "He breached the contract, especially with the constitutional declaration."

Waked identifies that as a "turning point" for Morsi, who had won support after prising power away from the military. However, he then pushed through a hastily drafted constitution that many Egyptians believe was written by an Islamist-dominated assembly. "Added to this was his, and his party's, incompetence and ineffectiveness at governing. …

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