“If violence surpasses a certain level, the army might be forced to be more proactive than it wants”
President Morsi addressed the nation on Wednesday evening facing an invited crowd at Cairo stadium. Morsi’s tone shifted repeatedly during the tortuous almost 3-hour address. Although Morsi began with a conciliatory message, he later singled out political rivals, some of whom left the political scene long ago, for personal attacks and complained of unspecified “enemies of Egypt,” warning that they could destabilize the country.
Morsi launched into a defense of his record and a list of plans to improve on it. Once more, he apologized for the widespread mismanagement by his government and also the fuel shortages that have caused long lines at petrol stations and angered many Egyptians. He similarly acknowledged failings to sufficiently involve the nation’s youth.
Despite Morsi’s admission of errors and offers for reform, there was nevertheless an uncompromising denunciation of those he blamed for wanting to “turn the clock back” to before the 2011 revolution. Morsi announced some decisions that no one took seriously, and he also avoided talking about the 30 June mass rallies to demand his ouster. Morsi reiterated the oft-repeated allegations that he and the Muslim Brotherhood are victims of a vicious media campaign to tarnish the image of the presidency and government and incite violence.
For many, Morsi once again confirmed that he is out of touch and not fit to rule. The speech was largely devoted to defaming a few marginal individuals in an attempt to reduce the protest movements against him as “an act of the remnants of the Mubarak regime to conspire against the revolution.” Some of the individuals he singled out have long been absent from the public.
Morsi’s speech was met with derision by Tahrir Square protesters outside the defense ministry, who voiced their contempt for his address and increased from some hundreds to many thousands by the speech’s end. Moreover, Morsi’s speech provoked angry protesters to go out to the streets and show their determination to topple the regime of the MB. Heavy clashes that left many wounded and dead between his supporters and opponents were reported in several cities throughout the country.
During the actual speech, there was at least one person killed and around 300 injured when his supporters clashed with protesters in front of provincial security headquarters in the northern city of Mansoura in the Nile Delta. There were also heavy clashes overnight in Alexandria. Opponents of Morsi and the MB are already sealing off Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other main squares in Egypt’s major cities to prevent counter-rallies by the president’s mostly-Islamist supporters, fuelling fears of potential violence.
Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi strongly opposes any decision by President Morsi to declare a state of emergency. There is much anxiety in the air, and Cairo is a city full of rumors. One of these rumors is that President Morsi will replace al-Sisi and the army leadership with more “Muslim Brothers-friendly generals”!
If this is true, then it could quickly end Morsi’s political survival, shortening it from weeks to days as millions prepare to rally to demand his removal this weekend. All sides insist that they do not want violence and that they will do their best to prevent it. However, there have already been scuffles and deaths during the last few days.
The Egyptian upper and middle class is very apprehensive about Islamist rule – a coalition of local human rights groups accused Morsi’s MB on Wednesday of crimes surpassing that of Mubarak’s regime and of setting up a “religious, totalitarian state.”
But many Egyptians are simply frustrated by decreasing living standards and fears of chaos. For ordinary Egyptians, the main concern today is economic hardship, especially since the unrest of the revolution scared off tourists, cutting a vital source of income. Power cuts and fuel shortages have been the talk of the country for weeks. In Cairo and other cities, long lines of vehicles have formed at fuel stations.
Among the criticisms of Morsi, a less than charismatic speaker who became the MB’s presidential candidate as a last-minute stand-in, is that he has turned to the support of harder-line Islamist groups, including former militants. Many also accuse him of never delivering on any of the promises to non-Islamists who supported him in the election. The lynching of five people from the Shi’ite Muslim minority on Sunday revived fears among minorities, including Egypt’s several million Christians, and was used by the opposition to portray Morsi as tolerant of an extremist fringe.
The heated political atmosphere and the prospect of widespread unrest prompted the US Embassy in Cairo and many other Western embassies to close to the public on Sunday, which is normally a work day in Egypt. People, mostly in Cairo, have begun stockpiling food in anticipation of street clashes between the two opposing political camps, with staples like canned goods, grains and frozen vegetables much sought after.
The Army’s signals are not understood by Morsi
There are reports that the army might be forced to enforce a solution in order to prevent the country from disintegrating, especially if the political impasse turns violent. The prospect of a political solution between the Islamists and their opponents looks very bleak. If violence surpasses a certain level, the army might be forced to be more proactive than it wants, mainly “to facilitate a transition of power to a technocratic caretaker government,” as The Guardian have quoted a senior military source today.
The MB and their Islamist allies are alarmed of the possibility of the army reverting back into the political scene on an official level. Islamists hardliners accuse State’s institutions, including courts, state media, police and civil service, of working to undermine Morsi, and, on several occasions, they have promised to fight if the army intervenes.
The army, which is held in high regard by many Egyptians, has warned it could step back in, a year after it handed power to the elected president. Defense Minister al-Sisi stated that the army “will not allow anyone to intimidate or terrorize the people.” He further added, “We would rather die than let that happen.” Similarly, Al-Sisi claimed that “the moral responsibility of the army towards the Egyptian people would compel it to intervene and prevent the country from descending into conflict, internal divisions and even the ultimate collapse of the state.”
On Wednesday the army tanks took up positions near a major highway running into Cairo. Egyptian armed forces have now deployed in Cairo and cities across the country in line with a security plan developed in anticipation of 30 June’s opposition protests.
The deployed army divisions will secure important institutions, including universities, power grids, Aswan’s High Dam and the Suez Canal. In the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said, the army reinforced its presence on Wednesday. The army has been deployed to key locations in the port city since January. Armored vehicles toured the city’s streets on Wednesday afternoon before parking in front of the governorate headquarters. Residents cheered for the forces’ presence.
The military deployment is also aimed at protecting vital institutions, public facilities, foreign embassies and strategic points including entrances to governorates. The Army Spokesperson reported that “the army would also monitor criminal hotspots and suspected jihadi strongholds,” but that “no troops had been sent to the state-owned Maspero broadcasting house yet.” Just outside of Cairo, Media Production City, where many of the private broadcasting stations are located, has also been secured, with more forces expected to descend on other areas within the next few hours.
Pro-Morsi Islamists have condemned the opposition over the planned rallies, accusing them of waging war on Islam. Some radical preachers have even said that “those taking to the streets against the Islamist President should be killed!” The army has made clear that its statements about a possible intervention are, at least in part, responding to these threats.
Another worrying factor is that the loyalty of police and other internal security services to the Islamist government may be in question. There are reports that at least 7,000 high-ranking officers (some retired) will participate in the 30 June protests.