Egypt deeply divided over President Morsi′s future | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 02.07.2013
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Middle East

Egypt deeply divided over President Morsi's future

The political situation in Egypt has sharply escalated, as hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate for President Morsi's ouster. Although the country is deeply divided, there's still a chance for reconciliation.

Protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, take part in a protest demanding Mursi to resign at Tahrir Square in Cairo July 1, 2013. The headquarters of Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood was overrun by youths who ransacked the building after those inside were evacuated on Monday following a night of violence that killed eight people. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

Kairo Massenproteste gegen Präsident Mursi 01.07.2013

The message was clear: "No Muslim Brothers allowed." Written on a flag posted in one of the streets leading to Tahrir Square, it demonstrates how little interest the opposition has in negotiating with Egypt's Islamist-leaning president, Mohammed Morsi.

When the revolution broke out in January 2011, Tahrir Square was a rallying point for Egyptians from all walks of life. They were united in their demand for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. But two-and-a-half-years later, that spirit of unity has faded.

The country is divided, with supporters and opponents of Morsi seemingly irreconcilable. Morsi's detractors are no longer calling on the president to implement reforms, but instead are demanding his resignation. His loyalists, on the other hand, say that he won Egypt's first free election and must finish his term in office.

Role of Islam and the state

Egyptians have been polarized by Morsi's politics. The Muslim Brotherhood has fallen out of public favor by imposing their vision of an expanded role for religion in state affairs, according to Gamal Soltan with the American University in Cairo. 

Autor: Nael Eltoukhy (DW) photo no.5 photo title: to the military, save Egypt photo description: To the military: save Egypt from Muslim brotherhood. from the demonstration of Tawfiq Okasha's lovers photo date: 30-6-2013 photo place: Cairo - Egypt Copyrights: Nael Eltoukhy

Some demonstrators have demanded that the military intervene to oust Morsi

"It's a kind of a vision that wouldn't fully integrate Egyptians regardless of their religious or ideological backgrounds," Soltan told DW. 

The demonstrators, who first took to the streets on the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration, are articulating a general unease that broad segments of the Egyptian population have with the president's politics.

Many Egyptians reject the constitution that was passed in November 2012. It's true that, in last year's referendum, two-thirds of the ballots were cast in favor of the constitution. But overall voter participation was only 33 percent. That dismally low number has many Egyptians doubting the document's legitimacy. 

Many of Morsi's opponents also accuse the president and his electoral base in the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to make Egypt's culture more Islamic. Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz has faced particularly harsh criticism. Shortly after assuming his post this year, he has moved to fill several influential positions with his own people, such as the head of Cairo's opera. There are fears among liberals and secularists that he could seek to restrict art on religious grounds.

Economic crisis sharpens tensions

In Egypt, an ideological power struggle is underway, according to Soltan. Both parties have failed to seize numerous opportunities to talk to each other.

epa03764865 Egyptian activists gather in support of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi during a pro-government rally in Cairo, Egypt, 28 June 2013. Supporters of Morsi rallied two days ahead of mass protests planned by opposition groups to call on the Islamist leader to step down. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Morsi remains popular among conservative Egyptians

"Groups with different ideological inclinations would have been able to reconcile and find a legal, peaceful way to settle their differences, if there is a recognition of political pluralism ... and that society has a large number of groups that all have a legitimate right to exist," Soltan said.

Meanwhile, this ideological battle is escalating in part due to a worsening economic crisis. After negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government has agreed to implement far-reaching reforms in exchange for loans. That includes reducing subsidies and raising taxes, measures that will cost the Muslim Brotherhood support among the poorer members of Egyptian society.

But politics are still the main problem, according to economist Ahmed Kamaly, also with the American University in Cairo.

"What's going to improve the economic prospects in Egypt is some kind of stability in terms of the political climate," Kamaly told DW. "Other than that, I don't see any kind of hope for the Egyptian economy."

Stubborn opposition

The opposition has also been the target of criticism. Morsi opponents have repeatedly rejected the president's offers of dialogue and have called instead for election boycotts. According to the liberal daily newspaper "Al-Masry Al- Youm," such behavior contributes little toward improving the country's political culture.

Egyptian protesters stand in the burnt headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Moqattam district of Cairo on July 1, 2013 after it was set ablaze by opposition demonstrators overnight. Egypt's opposition gave Islamist Mohamed Morsi a day to quit or face civil disobedience after deadly protests demanded the country's first democratically elected president step down after just a year in office. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Muslim Brotherhood's offices have been the target of arson

If one of the two opposing camps manages to win the current power struggle, they will have to resist the temptation to impose their will on their opponents, the paper said. The past months have shown that imposition achieves nothing.

"Right now, Egyptians have to be critical of themselves and make the effort to forge unity and national understanding - and look seriously for an exit out of the crisis," the paper wrote

In the meantime, Egypt's top military officer - General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi - has given the political leadership and the opposition until Wednesday "to fulfill the demands of the people." If that doesn't occur, then the army will make its own suggestions.

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