Two weeks before 30 June rallies, reconciliation prospects dimmer than ever

Ayat Al-Tawy, Tuesday 18 Jun 2013

As opposition parties and groups brace for 30 June anti-govt rallies – and with Egypt's Islamist camp mulling parallel counter-demonstrations – the spectre of renewed political violence looms disturbingly large

Egyptian on his motorbike signs a petition for Tamarod, Arabic for "rebel", a campaign calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and for early presidential elections in the Shubra neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt Sunday, June 2, 2013 (Photo: AP)

As many Egyptians prepare to hit the streets nationwide on 30 June to mark the end of President Mohamed Morsi's first year in office, the planned protests have come to the forefront of Egypt's domestic political scene amid mounting discontent with the country's post-revolution leadership.

The planned demonstrations, called for by Egypt's anti-Morsi 'Rebel' signature drive to demand snap presidential polls, are expected to be the largest since the 25 January uprising's second anniversary. Some campaigners are even billing the event as a 'second revolution.'

Within the last two months, the 'Rebel' campaign has become a new rallying point for discontented swathes of the public and a long-divided political opposition.

While campaigners stress that the protests will be peaceful in nature, mounting polarisation between supporters and opponents of President Morsi has prompted fears of violent clashes between the two rival camps.

The protest calls have drawn a chorus of accusations by Morsi supporters, who say that opposition forces are actively hoping for bloodshed by pushing for the ouster of Egypt's first-ever freely elected head of state. They are calling for counter-protests on 21 June to denounce any resort to political violence.

"We will express the opposing view," said Ahmed Oqeil, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). "Namely, support for Egypt's freely elected president and defence of his democratic legitimacy and the popular will as expressed in a transparent election."

The spectre of violence

As both sides accuse one another of bracing for bloodshed, 'Rebel' campaigners appear to have ruled out any resort to violent behaviour, particularly in light of the massive turnout they are anticipating on 30 June.

"Morsi supporters won't dare attack hundreds of thousands of protesters," 'Rebel' spokesman Moheb Doss told Ahram Online. "All their recent threats and assaults on 'Rebel' campaigners show how terrified they are."

Doss was referring to frequent physical assaults on anti-Morsi campaigners and an attack on the campaign's headquarters two weeks ago by unidentified perpetrators.

Doss contends that previous spates of political violence, some of which have led to days of unrest, were typically between smaller groups of demonstrators and activists – an unlikely scenario in the event of what he predicts will be million-strong protests on 30 June.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, the group from which President Morsi owes his allegiance, accuses the 'Rebel' campaign of setting fire to a number of the FJP's regional offices.

"There has been information about an arrangement between certain former MPs and thugs hired by [ousted president] Mubarak's National Democratic Party to sow violence and mayhem on 30 June," FJP media advisor Murad Ali asserted on Tuesday.

Drumming up support

'Rebel' campaigners, meanwhile, have been trying to drum up public support for the planned demonstrations in several of Egypt's governorates during what it has dubbed 'Rebel Week,' which kicked off on Saturday.

Campaign organisers, who claim to have already collected almost 15 million citizens' signatures, say the planned protests will culminate in an open-ended sit-in outside Morsi's residence, where tens of thousands plan to camp out "until the departure of the regime."

Parallel demonstrations are also planned outside Egypt's embassies overseas in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on the presidency, campaigners say.

Many Egyptians have grown increasingly disillusioned with the Islamist government and with what its detractors describe as the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to tighten its grip on state institutions.

Such claims were supported by a gubernatorial shake-up on Sunday – which saw the appointment of seven FJP members as regional governors – and a recent spate of dismissals of high-level cultural figures by a newly appointed Islamist-leaning culture minister.

Mounting public frustration and perceived failures on the part of the Islamist government to administer the nation's affairs has also been exacerbated by an acrimonious dispute between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the latter's hydro-electric Grand Renaissance Dam project, which Egypt fears could adversely impact its supply of Nile water.

Seeking settlement

The Brotherhood-allied Wasat Party, meanwhile, adopted a conciliatory approach last week, proposing a 'national reconciliation' initiative to which most opposition and Islamist parties were invited. The move was ostensibly aimed at "sparing the country imminent turmoil, bloodletting and political rivalry."

The proposal, however, was spurned by Morsi opponents, particularly the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) umbrella group.

Some critics argue that the outpouring of public frustration with Morsi's policies and the country's fast-tracked constitution has reached a tipping point, which even the opposition cannot hold in check.

"The Brotherhood and their allies still do not understand that their dispute is not with the opposition or democracy advocates, but rather with large swathes of an irate public," Ahmed Fawzi, secretary-general of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and leading NSF member, told Ahram Online.

Fawzy believes the initiative is a last-ditch attempt by the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party to "save the Muslim Brotherhood's doomed rule and create rifts in the opposition."

Some Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the hard-line Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, however, have welcomed the settlement initiative in the belief it might break the country's current political stalemate.

The Brotherhood, for its part, slammed the NSF's rejection of the initiative as an attempt to impose a "coup-minded" agenda that only serves its own interests.

Both Egypt's military and interior ministry, meanwhile, have asserted that they would secure vital installations and public facilities during the upcoming 30 June protests.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim made it clear, however, that police would not be dispatched to guard the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters – a protest hotspot in recent months – or those of any other political party. He said police would only move in to keep opposing sides apart in the event that violent confrontations took place.

Last December, police were widely blamed for deadly violence that broke out outside the Presidential Palace. Security forces were largely absent as Morsi supporters battled protesters opposed to a controversial presidential decree, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured in one of the worst outbreaks of violence since Morsi's assumption of the presidency almost one year ago.  

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