Egypt is counting down to what promises to be the largest nationwide demonstrations since massive 18-day protests forced former president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 to step down. Speculation is running high on the probable turnout Sunday, the first anniversary of the inauguration of Mohamed Morsi, to call for his premature departure as Egypt's first democratically elected president. Hailing from the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi has presided over an unmistakable deterioration in living conditions and shocking incidents of civil hostilities that are threatening, according to alarmists, a full-fledged civil war.
While leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have been suggesting to the rank-and-file of the oldest political Islamist group that the volume of anti-Morsi protestors would not exceed one million, and would inevitably dwindle in a matter of few days, Mounir Fakheri Abdel-Nour, the coordinator of the National Salvation Front (NSF; the largest umbrella grouping of the non-Islamist opposition) and a leading Al-Wafd Party member, is promising otherwise. “It is going to be massive; I really mean massive.”
Speaking to Ahram Online ahead of joining a meeting of the opposition political leadership to examine support logistics for demonstrators, Abdel-Nour said he expects “around six to seven million Egyptians from all governorates, villages and cities, of all backgrounds and faiths, to take to the streets in a joint show of wide dissatisfaction with the administration of President Mohamed Morsi.”
Born and brought up in one of the biggest Wafdist families, this natural connoisseur of politics says that his sense of certainty over the massive turnout tomorrow is not credited to the coordination of the NSF or inspiration from its leadership, but “simply the unprecedented consensus that the state of affairs has deteriorated so fast in the past year that it has become impossible for anyone not to notice and not to admit, even with regret, that President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are not up to the daunting challenge of leading the country post-Mubarak, in the wake of a revolution that has prompted the hopes and aspirations of even the most apolitical citizens."
“It has been shocking in a way to see this because we had all thought that the Muslim Brotherhood with their long experience and history would be able to live up to the challenge and to work in tandem with the hopes of the nation,” said Abdel-Nour. He added that instead of reaching out, the Muslim Brotherhood opted for a “very unfortunate attempt to impose its views and its will” without giving attention to the shocking decline in economy and the “sad” disruption of social cohesion.
For Abdel-Nour, the climax of Muslim Brotherhood insensitivity to the people was 22 November 2012 when President Morsi chose to issue a constitutional declaration that granted the head of the executive provisional extrajudicial powers. At the time, Abdel-Nour added, it was made very clear that the nation would not take this kind of “dictatorial syndrome,” no matter the pretext offered by the regime of suggested attempts by the ousted regime to undermine the new president.
“They did not get the message; they failed to read the people, and as of then they have been opting to intimidate by calling for gatherings of their supporters who allege to be the largest and strongest political group,” Abdel-Nour said. He added: “The people are not intimidated — not in the least. They are more and more determined to join the demonstrators, to ask Morsi to recognise that the nation’s confidence in him has been eroding and that he needs to bow to the will of the masses — which by the way include some who subscribe one way or the other to political Islam — and to call for early presidential elections."
“President Morsi has been telling us that those who seek a change at the top of the executive need to resort to the machinery of democracy and to impose their will through elections. We are onboard with this. We are asking him to have early presidential elections. This is precisely what we are asking for,” Abdel-Nour stated.
For Abdel-Nour, the recent statements and “in fact unbecoming threats” that have been made by the president and his followers do not help the cause of democracy or that of elections. “This is not the kind of discourse that could help fix a serious political dilemma,” Abdel-Nour said.
For Abdel-Nour, it is not fair of the president to suggest that the opposition has been turning its back to his calls for a rescue package.
“This is not true at all. All NSF leaders joined a sequence of meetings the president called for and they all shared with him candidly their views on how to stop the widening of what was then not an impossible gap to bridge. But he did not listen. Then the NSF called on him to introduce an efficient government, to stop the shocking decline in the economy and its catastrophic impact on the lives of the people, especially the very poor. But he did not listen. They asked him for a consensual agreement on the constitution, but he did not listen, and when they asked him to assign a committee to fix the constitution, again, he did not listen. They asked him to replace the prosecutor-general that he had assigned in disregard for constitutional regulations, but he declined,” Abdel-Nour said.
He added: “It is the president and not the opposition that has been ignoring calls for reconciliation."
According to the NSF coordinator, it would be presumptuous of opposition leaders to claim, either to themselves or the president, that they can stop the 30 June demonstrations. “Yes there has been a call for demonstrations, and yes, people have been signing an appeal formula (Tamarod) to withdraw confidence from the president, but this is not to say that anybody, either NSF leaders or the activists of Tamarod, could stop the march that has already been picking up momentum,” he said.
Abdel-Nour is not even sure that the demonstrations could be put on hold if the president bowed to some of the demands of the opposition.
“I am afraid to say that the damage has become too big to repair. I really think that the president needs to accept that he has lost the confidence of the people, and even if his presidency survived this round of demonstrations there would subsequent and endless protests that would inevitably force the will of the nation [upon him].”
AbdelNour is convinced that it is in the interest of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, just as it is in the interest of the nation, for the president to agree to early presidential elections. “The image of the Muslim Brotherhood in the eyes of sympathisers and supporters who are not actual members [is at stake] ... People really show strong dislike as a result of the disappointment, which might have come from exaggerated expectations,” he said.
Abdel-Nour added that by bowing to the will of the nation now, the Muslim Brotherhood would “still have a chance to pick up the pieces and work to restore confidence through participation, away from attempts at political hegemony."
“Nobody in the NSF is saying that if Morsi agrees to early presidential elections that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded from the political scene. Sobody is saying that at all. We are not the ones who call for exclusion.” “The Muslim Brotherhood should stay in the political scene, and they could absolutely field a candidate for the presidential elections if they so wished. But this would be done after the nation has collectively established the basis for a democratic state. After all, this was the whole purpose behind the January 25 Revolution."
Abdel-Nour is convinced that it is the will of the people, rather than a speculated coup by the military (something he excludes on the basis military coups are widely unpopular in present times) that could bring about a real and healthy change. “It is all about the will of the people,” he said.
Abdel-Nour is convinced that once the people take to the streets, the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi would see that they have to bow to the masses' demands.
“Then we, in the NSF, have a plan that we have been discussing with several bodies on how to move forward, in order to avoid the mistakes of the transition phase that followed the removal of Mubarak,” he said.
The post-Morsi NSF scheme includes the assignment of the head of the High Constitutional Court as head of state, the assignment of an efficient bureaucratic government, and the assignment of an independent committee to revisit controversial articles in the constitution.
Abdel-Nour adds: “We could have an interim phase of around six months or so, and then we could walk our way to legislative and presidential elections with our eyes fixed firm on the objectives of social justice, transitional justice and freedom.”