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'Quiet before the storm'

Since the ousting of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi by the military, there have been violent clashes between Morsi opponents and supporters. Political scientist Ahmed Khalifa fears there could be a rise in violence.

Ahmed Kalifa (Photo: private)

Ahmed Khalifa fears that there may be a rise in violence in Egypt.

DW: Mr Khalifa, you have been in Cairo since Wednesday morning, which is when President Mohammed Morsi was arrested and ousted by the Egyptian military. What did you learn about the events after your arrival?

Ahmed Khalifa: A friend of mine has a motorbike. We went from one demonstration to the next to get an idea of the situation. Sometimes we couldn't get through because the army had sealed off certain areas. But we were able to talk to a lot of people. Morsi's supporters were very concerned and felt deceived by the army. They said they'd won the elections and wanted Morsi to be in power.

But there are also many people who welcomed Morsi's ousting.

Of course - the majority is against Morsi. The army would never have been able to do what they did if they didn't have the support of the majority of the population. I would say that about a third of the population support Morsi, two thirds are against him.

Which essentially means that the military carried out the people's wish?

Yes, that's correct. Scientists are currently debating whether or not it was a military coup. Governments abroad are more careful with how they phrase it. The US administration has also acknowledged that ousting Morsi was in accordance with the people's will. You can tell that the first phase, which represented the will of the people, is now over. In the second phase, Morsi's supporters have been taking to the streets. On Friday (05.07.2013) I was at a demonstration of the Muslim Brotherhood, which I found scary. They want an Islamic state. They want Sharia law, which exists on paper already, but hasn't really been used. Several representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood stressed that they won't accept Morsi's ousting and that they will continue to fight for their goals.

So will there be further escalation?

There's a lot of tension in the city, even if daily life continues. All areas with army buildings, such as the defense ministry and the Republican Guard, have been sealed off. There is no curfew yet, but several parts of town, like for instance Heliopolis, have been circled in by the army. Friday night saw violent clashes at Cairo University. Yesterday I drove across a bridge which links two city districts on the Nile. You couldn't see the tarmac on the road any more because there were just too many stones. On Saturday, I attended a funeral of five people who were killed by Islamists. The victims belonged to the secular part of the population. It's very dramatic here.

That basically means that the clashes happen between different parts of the population, i.e. between Morsi supporters and opponents, rather than between Morsi supporters and soldiers?

That's correct. The military and the police stand between the two without intervening. They only intervene when the situation escalates. After Morsi's ousting, apart from a few exceptions, there were no clashes between the army and the population - neither with Morsi supporters nor with Morsi opponents. The military avoids that kind of confrontation so that they don't become the enemy. If there were clashes with the population, even Morsi's opponents could turn against the military. That's something the army wants to avoid.

Can you say something about the current development? On Saturday, it looked like Nobel peace prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei would become the head of a transition government. But by Sunday, it hadn't happened. What do you know?

There were several rumors on Saturday about which positions ElBaradei could fill. I suspect he has withdrawn now so as to not become too torn between the camps. Presumably he wants to keep his role as an adviser for the military and for secular powers. Morsi's supporters don't accept him. I thought it was remarkable that the Salafists also rejected ElBaradei. But nobody knows what's really going on because ElBaradei hasn't said anything himself yet.

How do you think the situation will develop over the next few days? Are you expecting a rise in violence?

That's impossible to say. On Saturday, the Islamists withdrew, and it's been fairly calm in the streets ever since. The President remains locked up. You don't hear anything of Morsi, we don't even know where he is. Everybody is waiting for him to talk. The vast majority of Morsi's supporters have been demonstrating peacefully. But it's hard to say what will happen now. I feel it's the quiet before the storm.

Political scientist Ahmed Khalifa is a peace and conflict researcher at the International Conversion Center in Bonn (BICC). He travelled to Cairo last week to get an idea of the situation on the ground.

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