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30 June: Egypt's Islamists wage war for presidential 'legitimacy'

Accusing former regime remnants of masterminding anticipated violence 30 June with the aim of toppling Mohamed Morsi, the president's supporters vow to defend his 'legitimacy' by all and any means

Sherif Tarek , Thursday 20 Jun 2013
Cairo University
Thousands of Egyptian protesters shout slogans supporting Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, his poster at center, during a rally outside Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)
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In the face of planned protests aimed at toppling President Mohamed Morsi 30 June, his Islamist supporters have been charging that his opponents are primarily remnants of the former regime, claiming they have plotted a vicious scheme to drag Egypt into chaos.

The "Rebel" campaign, a signature drive launched in May with the intention of "withdrawing confidence" from Morsi by collecting 15 million citizen endorsements for early presidential elections, made the call for mass protests, demanding the president's ouster.

In addition to mass endorsement across secular opposition parties and groups, including the main opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front (NSF), remnants of the former regime are confirmed as supporting the campaign and its drive to topple the regime.

Islamists have repeatedly alleged that Mubarak-era figures intend to turn the protests into clashes that would see many deaths.  

'Corrupt businessmen'                                                               

Citing "corrupt businessmen" from the Mubarak-era as main instigators of the planned demonstrations, Assem Abdel-Maged, a leading member of Egypt's ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya movement, claims that "Rebel" campaigners intend to "send hired thugs to impersonate members of Palestine's Hamas and gun down their own protesters."

Hamas, which is an ideological offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has been accused of involvement in Egypt's 2011 uprising that culminated in the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. It has been alleged that Gaza's ruling Islamist movement was responsible for nationwide prison breaks during the uprising.

Murad Ali, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) media adviser, echoed similar sentiments by saying: "There is information about an arrangement among certain former MPs and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party thugs to cause violence and mayhem in the 30 June demonstrations."

The FJP — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — along other pro-Morsi Islamist parties, including the centrist Al-Wasat Party founded by Brotherhood defectors, tabled more detailed accusations at a joint press conference held at the headquarters of the Building and Development Party, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's political wing.

While Abdel-Maged referred to anonymous business tycoons aiming at resurrecting the Mubarak regime, which repressed Islamists for three decades, the parties that took part in the conference named five businessmen allegedly planning mayhem: Abdel-Rehim El-Goul, Ali Shabaan, Hamdi El-Tahan, Mohamed Farid and Yassin Mansour.

Statements also pointed a finger at businessman Mohamed El-Amin.

El-Amin owns a number of satellite channels, including CBC on which the highly-watched weekly show of renowned TV satirist Bassem Youssef is exclusively broadcast. The sergeant-cum-comedian usually makes fun of Morsi and other Islamist figures on his show. Thus he is hated by the overwhelming majority of Islamists.

The joint press conference accused El-Amin of receiving funds from Gulf countries with the aim of supporting the fall of the incumbent regime.

Tensions with UAE

While press conference statements did not name the accused Gulf countries, a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure took a swipe at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), worsening already tense relations between the Islamic group and the oil-rich country.

MP Essam El-Erian warned that “Egypt has lost its patience” with Egyptians being detained in UAE prisons, some of them from the Brotherhood. He made the statement during a debate on Arab relations in the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, Monday.

“Tell [the UAE] that nuclear Iran is coming ... The Persians are coming, not the Egyptians, and you will become slaves of the Persians,” he said, in reference to Shia-ruled Iran, which is blacklisted by many of Egypt's Sunni Islamists.

Last year, tensions between the UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood reach an alarming high point after the latter's spokesperson, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said that the Emirates "would not dare" arrest Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradawy, a prominent Brotherhood supporter, branding a previous statement by Dubai's police chief a "disgrace."

Dubai's police chief, Dahi Khalfan, known for being critical of the Brotherhood, had earlier announced on Twitter his intention to issue an international arrest warrant against Al-Qaradawy, head of the International Institute for Muslim Scientists, after the latter's statements against Emirati leaders for the deportation of about 100 anti-Assad Syrian families from the UAE.

Further, many believe that the UAE has been supporting Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last premier, since he ran for the presidency. Since narrowly losing in the run-offs of the presidential elections, which were widely perceived to be Egypt's first-ever free presidential polls, Shafiq has resided in the UAE.

Shafiq along with his supporters has been backing the Rebel campaign and the 30 June protests. Followers of Shafiq have even been gathering signatures for the anti-Morsi campaign.

Islamist keyword: Legitimacy

The Rebel campaign is seeking to collect 15 million endorsements, to exceed the number of votes Morsi garnered (roughly 13 million) in the presidential elections runoffs. The campaign demands early presidential elections after the departure of Morsi.

The campaign, which announced 29 May that it had collected seven million signatures after less than a fortnight of its launch and is yet to reveal the final number of amassed endorsements, accuses the Morsi administration of "failing to implement policies to improve the life of ordinary people," citing Egypt's increasingly dire economic situation.

Morsi's proponents, however, stress that the Rebel campaign has no legal power to end the president's tenure prematurely, even if the campaigners gathered the targeted number of signatures.

Essam Sultan, a leading member of Al-Wasat Party, has said that the signatures gathered by the campaign are "legally meaningless" and will not affect the legitimacy of Morsi as president.

Mohamed El-Beltagi, vice-president of the FJP, reiterated the stance of his group that the opposition should take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections instead of trying to oust Morsi. "Why don't they go to the ballot boxes and avoid possible violence if they can mobilise as many people as they say?" he commented.

Prime Minister Hisham Qandil on Wednesday cast light on another argument while speaking on live television, saying: "If the president is brought down through protests, so will his successors, which will eventually see the ship [Egypt] sink."  

For his part, Morsi earlier blamed the opposition for repeatedly turning down invitations to partake in national dialogues where "crucial matters" were discussed. "We invited them to discuss Jerusalem, the Nile [saga with Ethiopia], and Syria. Where was the opposition?" he said in a recent speech.

Leading opposition figures frequently argue that dialogue with the presidency would be pointless because the latter is running the country in as "autocratic" a way as the regime the 2011 uprising deposed.

Meanwhile, El-Nour Party, the political arm of the Salafist Call, announced that it will take no part in the 30 June demonstrations — neither on the side of Morsi nor against. It renewed its invitation for a national dialogue to end the ongoing stalemate, albeit to no avail.

The Salafist Call, the largest Salafist movement in Egypt, released a statement Tuesday announcing that its members will not hit the streets 30 June, warning that violent rhetoric and mobilisation on both sides will divide the nation.

Violence between camps already evident

Some hard-line Islamists have released inflammatory statements, such as Abdel-Maged of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya who said "there is no limit to what might be done to protect the legitimacy [of the president] and the state."

Meanwhile, Nabil Naim, former leading figure of Egypt's Jihad Movement, commented that the remnants of the once-militant movement, dismantling since the early 2000s, are split between supporters and opponents of Morsi, saying that he represents the opposing side of Morsi in protest at the "Brotherhood's failed policies," according DPA.

Some Islamist groups, including Al-Wasat Party and Al-Gamaa, have said they will hold a "million-man anti-violence rally” 21 June, nine days ahead of the anticipated violence.

Clashes between the two major sides — supporters and detractors of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood — have been manifest for the past months, with both sides occasionally using firearms against each other.

Last December, clashes erupted after Morsi supporters arrived at the presidential palace where an opposition sit-in and protest was taking place against the 22 November 2012 constitutional declaration. Both sides swapped accusations of responsibility for the violence that left 10 dead.

After bloody confrontations, a number of videos circulating on the Internet showed civilians being tied up, physically abused and interrogated by bearded men in the vicinity of the presidential palace.

One of the victims was a former Egyptian diplomat, Yehia Negm, who alleged during an interview with Al-Hayat TV channel that Brotherhood members tortured him for several hours.

In March, a host of protesters gathered at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood to protest against "Brotherhood rule." Members of the Islamic group were assaulted by protesters, as video and photo evidence showed. Opposition demonstrators also alleged violent conduct by Brotherhood supporters.

Anti-Brotherhood protesters were infuriated because Mervat Moussa, a political activist and member of Egypt's Popular Current movement, was knocked unconscious by a slap across her face by a Brotherhood supporter in earlier confrontations. The same assailant also beat up activist Ahmed Doma on the same day, as a widely circulated video showed.

Recently, a number of clashes in a number of governorates have been reported between Rebel campaigners and Morsi supporters, the most ugly of which was in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, and in Fayoum, south of the Nile Delta.

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