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Mass protest

Anne Allmeling / mll
January 29, 2013

Two years after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, thousands protest against his successor. They feel betrayed and demand a government of national unity.

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flee from tear gas fired by riot police REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Image: Reuters

Enraged demonstrators, armed police, violence on the streets: the television pictures are reminiscent of February 2011, when thousands of Egyptians demanded the overthrow of the regime. They refused to give up until the dictator Hosni Mubarak was gone.

Now we see the same pictures, but the leader of the government is Mohammed Morsi - and he doesn't seem to be ready to go.

State of emergency in three cities

Morsi has responded to the deadly rioting by imposing a state of emergency in three cities. On Monday (28.01.2013) he announced that the military would be deployed in an attempt to restore calm, and that the army would take on police duties until the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

That development has brought the opposition onto the streets, saying it reminds them of the tyranny of the Mubarak regime.

An Egyptian Army tank deploys as Egyptian protesters gather outside the presidential palace Photo:Hassan Ammar/AP/dapd
The army is doing its old job again: putting down demonstrationsImage: dapd

Morsi's disparate opponents are united by one thing: they want a state that keeps a certain distance from religion. According to Gudrun Krämer, professor of Islam Studies at the Free University of Berlin, "The opposition doesn't want the state or society to be dominated by Islam as interpreted by the Islamists. But that doesn't mean that they are secularists or non-believing Muslims."

High expectations of the politicians

Krämer sees two main tendencies among Morsi's opposition. One group, centered on former presidential candidate Hamdin Sabahi, rejects an Islamist state and demands a separation between the state and religion, as well as a state welfare policy. A second group, meanwhile, also rejects any further Islamization, but also wants to see economic problems solved and demands the right of greater consultation and participation.

"Many Egyptians have become very involved," says Elizabeth Iskander, Egypt expert at the GIGA Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in Hamburg. "But that also means that they expect a lot from their politicians. They want to be listened to." Morsi has a difficult task, she says: "Whatever he does, I don't think the majority will ever say he was successful."

Discontented with the president

Morsi can rely on the Muslim Brotherhood, to which he belonged for many years, and which won by far the most votes in both the presidential and the parliamentary elections. But there are different tendencies within the Muslim Brotherhood too, and they are not all happy with the president's policies - some of them expect more of him.

Though this is true of the Brotherhood, it's even more applicable to the opposition. As Krämer says, "Those who see themselves as the instigators of the revolutionary movement feel that they've been betrayed."

Morsi REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Many Egyptians believe that Morsi has stolen their revolutionImage: Reuters

Such people want to continue the revolution, and hope to win over the majority for a less Islamist policy. "They feel they've been pushed aside, as indeed they have," says Krämer.

Dialogue rejected

That's one reason the opposition has rejected Morsi's offer of dialogue. The prominent opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei tweeted, "Until the president takes responsibility for the recent bloodshed and promises to set up a government of national salvation and an independent authority to amend the constitution, any dialogue would be a mere waste of time."

"Many of those currently in politics, both in government and in opposition, are not pragmatically inclined. They're fighting for power," says Krämer.

She sees the biggest difference between the two sides in their attitude towards the role of religion. Meanwhile, they agree on many economic or foreign policy issues, even some areas of social policy.

Few pragmatists

Krämer believes it would be possible to build a government of national unity which could work together on these issues, if only there were pragmatists on all sides. But, for that to happen, Morsi must de-escalate and stabilize the situation in the country. The imposition of a state of emergency and the increased role for the military seem to have had the opposite effect.

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