A year after his resounding victory in Egypt’s first democratic election, President Mohamed Morsi has fled the Presidential Palace and gone into hiding out of fear that the protesters in Tahrir Square want his head. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are holding demonstrations around the country this weekend, and once again the epicenter is Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the starting point of the revolution that drove out longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The protests have already turned violent. One of the first casualties of the demonstrations was a Jewish student from Chevy Chase, MD, who had gone to Alexandria, Egypt to teach English to children. Andrew Pochter, 21, was a bystander, watching the demonstrations in Alexandria when a protester stabbed him. Pochter, who had been active in Hillel at Kenyon (Ohio) College, was “murdered in cold blood,” according to an Egyptian friend who had been with him at the demonstrations.
Morsi has been a failure and barely one in four Egyptians support him, according to a Zogby Research poll. An Internet petition calling for Morsi’s removal has reportedly accumulated 22 million signatures.
His government is politically as well as financially bankrupt. Working with the Muslim Brotherhood, the party he formerly led, and the even more extremist Salafi movement, he has been turning the Arab world’s largest and most secular country away from the promised democracy and toward the road to theocracy. He rammed through a new constitution based on Islamic law and in packing local and regional as well as government posts with Islamists.
Amid calls for new elections right away, some argue that Morsi’s election was legitimate and he should be allowed to serve out the three remaining years of his term. That argument would have some merit if Morsi were demonstrating a genuine commitment to democratization instead Islamization.
Early elections are a good idea, but first the liberal and secular opposition be better prepared than last year; they need to be better organized, with a strongly developed grass roots infrastructure, a unified coalition to face the Islamists, a nationwide network of leaders, a clear and well-developed platform and a coordinated traditional and social media strategy. They were soundly defeated a year ago because the Islamists, particularly Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, were better organized, more cohesive, more motivated and more media savvy.
Many demonstrators are accusing the United States of propping up Morsi and not doing enough to help the opposition. The Obama administration is seen as backing Morsi when it should be, at best, neutral. Washington has strong ties to the Egyptian military and it should be using those to encourage it to remain neutral, as it did in 2011, and resist Morsi’s efforts to stack it with anti-Western Islamist loyalists (which has been happening in Turkey).
Demonstrators come not only from secularists and liberals seeking democracy but also followers of the Mubarak regime and Islamists more conservative than Morsi and the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood will be turning out its followers to demonstrated in support of Morsi. Will the army stand by as it did in the anti-Mubarak revolution?