Organisers of a new signature drive aimed at registering opposition to President Mohamed Morsi say their campaign is gaining momentum, despite doubts about the initiative's efficacy and the launch of a counter-campaign.
Unhappy with Egypt's Islamist government, young activists have launched the 'Tamarod' or 'Rebel' campaign to force President Morsi to hold early elections and "foment rebellion against the Muslim Brotherhood," the group from which Morsi hails.
The initiative seeks to collect 15 million signatures in support of a vote of no confidence in Morsi; outnumbering the 13.2 million votes Morsi won in Egypt's first-ever free presidential polls last year, in which he narrowly beat Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.
"The petition will eventually be submitted to the prosecutor-general to strip President Morsi of his post," Ahmed El-Masry, a founding member of the campaign, told Ahram Online.
The campaign hopes to conclude with a million-strong rally outside the presidential palace in Cairo's Heliopolis district to demand snap presidential elections.
"Yet again, we've managed to bring the Egyptian people together," El-Masry said. "No retreat this time – not until we attain our ultimate goal: democracy."
According to organisers, the campaign is active in 19 out of Egypt's 27 governorates, as well as in nine foreign countries.
Claiming to have some 6,000 volunteers, the group says it has collected more than two million signatures – with 800,000 in Cairo alone. While the movement was officially established on 22 April, it only began campaigning in earnest on 1 May.
The positive response has led organisers to expand the campaign to include conferences and roundtable discussions across the country, Mahmoud Badr, founder of 'Rebel', told Al-Ahram Arabic news website on Monday.
The campaign now boasts around 100,500 followers on its official Facebook page.
The campaign has given itself a 30 June deadline to fulfill its stated objective, exactly one year since Morsi took power, campaign spokesman Mahmoud Badr explained in a recent televised interview. The date, Badr asserted, will "mark one year of political, social and economic failure."
Egypt's non-Islamist opposition has accused President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to monopolise state institutions and stifle dissent. These fears were compounded by an Islamist-tinged constitution that was approved in a nationwide popular referendum late last year.
While some critics question the campaign's expected efficacy, several opposition political forces appear to have endorsed it. These include April 6 Youth Movement, liberal Constitution Party, Socialist Popular Alliance Party and Strong Egypt Party, founded by former Brotherhood leading figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
President Morsi's Islamist allies, for their part, have been quick to dismiss the petition, which Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref recently described as "absurd" and "useless."
"It's not about who can mobilise and gather signatures, or else the Brotherhood would have done so under the Mubarak regime," Aref told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website on Sunday. "The ballot box is the democratic means by which the public must express itself."
Prominent Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud has also questioned the campaign's legality.
He told Ahram Online that the campaign was "illegal since the hijacking of political [democratic] legitimacy is against the law."
Several campaign members were briefly detained by police while promoting the signature drive at Cairo and Sohag universities.
In response to the signature-collecting campaign, a handful of counter-movements have sprung up to show solidarity with Egypt's embattled president.
On Sunday, Assem Abdel-Maged, a leading member of Egypt's ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, announced the launch of a counter-initiative in the Upper Egyptian city of Qena, named 'Tagarod', or 'Impartiality'.
"The campaign was launched months ago," Abdel-Maged told Al-Ahram Arabic news website. "It only began to take the form of a signature drive on Sunday."
Asked about the meaning of Tagarod, Abdel-Maged said it means "impartiality of differences and grudges that we must put aside."
The Islamist leader says his campaign, unlike its rival which "incites chaos," works towards stability and 'impartiality' of differences.
The presidency has declined to comment on the signature drive. Presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy has stressed, however, that Egypt's new constitution guarantees the right to peaceful protest and expression.
In 2010, before Egypt's Tahrir Square uprising, reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei collected one million signatures – in less than seven months – for a petition demanding constitutional reform.
The petition, for which ElBaradei joined forces with the Muslim Brotherhood through his National Association for Change umbrella group, represented the country's largest political petition during the Hosni Mubarak era.