Tag Archives: morsi

Protest and Public Space – Egypt’s Streets

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A less theory-heavy version of this appeared in Vice on December 17th

For close to three years Egyptians employed protest and the occupation of public space to devastating effect.  Almost every Friday, some group, somewhere, would be demonstrating.

In Spring 2011, Hosni Mubarak was overthrown when hundreds of thousands poured into the streets demanding change.  In Spring 2012, the indolent SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) Military government sped up their transition of power after immense pressure from the streets.  In Summer 2013, Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, was forced out of office and into a cell when huge numbers gave the Army reason enough to remove him from power.

Now, the military-backed interim government has passed an anti-demonstration law that Amnesty said would “pave the way to bloodshed” and Human Rights Watch said was “in violation of international standards”.

Article 7 of the Protest Law especially stands out due to its vague and wide reaching parameters regarding “violations of general security, public order or production…” which, as subjective terms, leaves room for punitive arrests, a jail term of up to 5 years and fines of up to $14,500 USD.

For the current government, which is only in power as a result of demonstrations, to pass an anti-demonstration law is an irony that is not lost on many.

According to Professor Charles Tripp author of, “The Power and the People: Paths of Resistance in the Middle East”, the occupation of a public space is, in and of itself, an act of resistance against the state and can be an incredible tool in challenging power.  Unlike the clearer, often opulent, physical manifestations of government, public spaces aren’t usually under constant guard or omnipresent supervision.  The openness of the squares, roundabouts, parks, streets, etc. often make these sites the ineluctable frontiers of confrontation.

As the name suggests, public space invites citizens into it’s areas, but by virtue of being conceived, planned and built by the state, it can also be seen as an extension of the state: what Tripp refers to as the “built environment of the state”.

By taking to public spaces and occupying them, the demonstrators change the areas’ function.  No longer are they squares, roads, or parks (as labelled by the state), rather settings for dissent.  The occupiers have already challenged the power of the state simply by refusing to use these spaces as designated by the Government.

The dissent is aired openly so that others, including the officials (but more importantly other members of the public), can see and hear what is happening.  Word spreads.  In economic vernacular, what was once ‘individual knowledge’ is now ‘mutual knowledge’.  Where before you may not be sure as to what your fellow countryman and woman thought about the Government, now you and everyone knows, and everyone knows that you know.

The sociologist Max Weber writes of the existential imperative for states in “Politics as a Vocation” stating, “If the State is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be”.  So when crowds disrupt public space, it immediately gives lie to the image that governments the world over, but specifically in autocratic states, attempt to portray: The image of an ordered, obedient, content society that is reverential to power and state public institutions.

Within Egypt, public protest had long been against the state and its institutions.  However, an intriguing change was experienced after the massive June 30th demonstrations that led to Morsi’s removal on July 3rd.

Nathan J Brown, Professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, elaborates, “What is unusual…is the way that key state actors–not only General al-Sisi and the military high command but also the previously disgraced security apparatus–have been able to position themselves on the winning side since June 30.  Indeed, whatever happened on June 30…it has been clear since July 3 that the military and security apparatus are no longer following the crowd, they are leading it.”

In the aftermath of removing a president who had alienated a large proportion of Egyptians, the state and specifically the de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, were able to use their high approval ratings and appropriate public protest and demonstration for their own sake.

No longer was public protest, ipso facto, against the state, it was now a tool being wielded by the state.  This was nowhere made clearer than on July 26th when General al-Sisi called for a “mandate to deal with terrorism”.  The call was answered by the hundreds of thousands who flocked to the streets nationwide in support.  Previous governments had attempted similar calls of support, but the numbers al-Sisi garnered were unprecedented in this regard.

Any major demonstrations of dissent that followed were dominated by the Pro Muslim Brotherhood ‘Anti-Coup Alliance’, who had been effectively demonized as “terrorists”.  They were easily, and brutally, put down without any risk of sparking a national backlash.  Any group opposed to both the Army and the Brotherhood was outnumbered and drowned out by a dichotomised discourse that didn’t provide space for a ‘third choice’ – neither brotherhood nor army.

After approximately 1000 pro-Morsi protesters were killed on August 14-16th by Security forces, a state of emergency and curfew was put in place.  Unlike previous attempts at imposing a curfew, which were largely ignored, the following three months of curfew was largely adhered to.  One of the noisiest areas, Downtown Cairo, became a ghost town in the evenings, all the shops shut with only the headlights of the odd car seen breaking curfew.

As part of enforcing the curfew, Army APCs and tanks were placed strategically around the city, Tahrir Square especially well guarded.  Little in the way of opposition or uproar was voiced in response to the increased security presence, as it was interpreted as a necessary presence.  This could be seen as symbolic of the government’s successful reclamation of public space.

Not long after the military-backed interim government’s popular approval peaked (during the nationalistic October 6th War celebration) a draft of the new protest law was approved by the cabinet and placed under the review of interim President Adly Mansour.

When details of the law were exposed, it was met by a deluge of outrage and disapproval across the societal spectrum: salafists; April 6th Youth Movement; political figures; rights groups; youth revolutionary block; and even the Tamarod group – one of the Army’s main grassroots cheerleaders.  It seemed the army had overplayed their hand and overestimated their carte blanche support.

“Other people were looking after their own interests [before], but after this law, it’s affecting their interests too and violating everyone’s rights.  It’s amazing because what Sisi did has actually united the people.”  Says Deena Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the Anti-Coup Alliance.  “[Sisi] has decided to determine the will of the people, even the ones who are with him, to close their mouths and to decide alone, so even Tamarod aren’t really allowed to speak.  People both with him and against him are not allowed to speak now.”

Despite the overwhelming criticism, the interim President went on to pass the law.  The details of the final draft its and heavy-handed application proved worrying enough to prompt the EU High Representative and the UN Secretary-General into voicing their concerns at the law and the events that immediately followed its implementation.

On November 26th, the day the anti-demonstration law went into effect, a protest was planned outside the Shura Council in Downtown Cairo.  Those participating were peaceful and relatively small in number, some 150 people; amassed in opposition to a long contentious aspect of the judiciary – namely the trying of civilians within military courts.

Within 30 minutes, riot police appeared on the opposite side of the street.  A policeman on a loudspeaker gave the protesters 5 minutes to disperse.  As soon as the time was up, they opened with water cannons before charging, beating and arresting any protesters who couldn’t get away fast enough.

Ironically, while arresting several dozen of the protesters, the police accidentally broke a stipulation of the new law they were so fervent in upholding.  Video footage emerged of men and women being harassed by plain-clothes policemen despite Article 11 of the law clearly stating [emphasis mine] “Security forces in official uniform should disperse protests, meetings or marches…”

Some 27 people sat in jail as a direct result, including high profile activists like Ahmed Abdurahman, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher.  With regards to those last three, official warrants of arrest were issued for them after the demonstration.  Their charges included: incitement to violence, rallying and “thuggery”, resisting authorities and violating the new protest law.

23 of those 27 have now been released on bail, but the other four remain in detention: Alaa and Abdurahman for the events by the Shura Council, Douma and Maher for events outside Abdeen.  Now the prosecutor general has referred Alaa and 24 other activists to the criminal court for breaking the protest law.

On hearing of his warrant, Alaa Abd El-Fattah (having already been detained under Mubarak, Tantawi and Morsi) released a statement saying “my ever imminent arrest is now a running joke in Egypt”.  Nevertheless, he indicated his intention to turn himself in on Saturday at noon but was not given the chance.

That Thursday, Alaa’s home was invaded by security services.  He and his wife were beaten, their laptops taken and Alaa arrested.  Having already made his intentions of turning himself in very clear, the actions of the security services appear somewhat punitive.

As the ire of the activist community and ‘Third Square’ (supporters of neither the Brotherhood nor the Military) groups increases against the incumbent powers, so do incidences of articles smearing them as sexual deviants, or inhuman (as demonstrated by an article titled “Human Rights? What Human?”)

Nevertheless, as more cases of injustice crop up, more people who affiliate with neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the Army are making their voices heard.  In Alexandria 7 female minors were sent to juvenile detention while another 14 women were handed 11-year sentences (longer than many policemen convicting of killing civilians receive).  All for making a human chain and holding balloons sympathetic to Mohamed Morsi.  In the aftermath of disgust shown towards the verdict, the detainees had their sentences reduced to one suspended year.

After the first draft of the protest law, increasingly variegated factions of Egyptians are voicing concerns towards matters of injustice, corruption and reform.  They hint at a future where the theatre of the street and public spaces are once again a weapon wielded against the state and for reform, rather than for the state and the status quo.

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3rd Anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud St Clashes

First published on Vice November 21st here – all photos by Amanda Mustard (@mustardphoto)

The second anniversary of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes was a confusing day of demonstration. Hundreds gathered in Cairo Tuesday to pay tribute to protesters killed by riot police during a crackdown on the Egyptian revolution two years ago, but wanting to commemorate those who lost their lives was about as close to an overall common ground as it got. Demonstrators included people who support the army, people who support the Muslim Brotherhood and people who support neither and don’t want to be ruled by either a military junta or Islamists.

Thankfully, the scenes of the 19th of November, 2011 weren’t repeated, but small scuffles did break out near the Egyptian Museum just off Tahrir Square as pro-army groups exchanged verbal – and then physical – blows with their opponents. For the most part, it was a peaceful day of demonstrations dominated by the “third square” movement that opposes both the army and the Brotherhood.

In the build up to the day’s events, various groups released statements outlining their plans for the day. The pro-Brotherhood “Anti-Coup Alliance” made it clear that they had no intention of going anywhere near Mohamed Mahmoud Street or Tahrir Square, “so as not to give a chance to the conspirators to fabricate violent incidents and blame them on the [Anti-Coup Alliance]“. They kept their word and their protests were mostly confined to areas away from central downtown Cairo.

Overall, it was the incongruous plans of the pro-army groups that seemed to irk the majority of Egyptians. They called for mass demonstrations in remembrance of the martyrs killed in Mohamed Mahmoud, but also in support of the Interior Ministry, the police and the army. Ironically, it was the police who’d killed the martyrs being remembered, but I’m guessing the pro-army groups just chose to forget that minor detail.

A “coffin” of one of the Mohamed Mahmoud martyrs

After the deaths of around 50 people in the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud crackdown, the Ministry of Interior released a statement condemning a “third party” in a vain attempt to shift the blame. In response to such a flagrant shot at rewriting history, the groups that identify themselves as the “Third Square” – a mix of Muslims, Christians, Islamists, moderates and secularists who reject both the Muslim Brotherhood and military rule – called on their supporters to flock to Mohamed Mahmoud to remember those killed, while also opposing the pro-army groups.

Their work started the day before when a new Third Square group called “The Way of the Revolution Front” held a demonstration in Abdeen, not far from Tahrir Square. Speeches were given and video from the 2011 tragedy was shown on a screen. The mothers of those killed during the fighting also joined the group.

Afterwards, they ventured down Mohamed Mahmoud Street and into Tahrir Square, where a monument “in memory of those that died in the January 2011 and June 2012 revolutions” had just been erected. The monument didn’t go down particularly well. Considering it was built by the current government, many believe it taints the martyrs’ memory somewhat. Less than 12 hours after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, it was being taken apart and sprayed with graffiti that read: “Down with those who betrayed us: Brotherhood; remnants of the old regime; and the Interior Ministry.”

A man who supports General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – the First Deputy Prime Minister, who led the coup against former President Morsi – watching from the periphery turned to me and whispered, “This is a disgrace, for the martyrs and all Egyptians. These dogs are not real Egyptians.”

On the anniversary itself, a rare criticism of the incredibly powerful army could be seen and heard throughout downtown Cairo. Until Tuesday, the pro-Brotherhood groups had a monopoly on anti-army chants and the pro-army groups dominated the anti-Brotherhood chants. Now, members of the Third Square were – almost in the same breath – chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood andthe army. “Down with military rule!” could be heard alongside calls against former President Mohamed Morsi.

It was noticeable that there wasn’t much of a security presence, especially given that the area is often inundated with police and armoured vehicles (APCs). Clearly aware that their presence would likely cause more problems that it would prevent, security forces had evacuated the area.

A take on the old chant of, “Aysh horreya, adala igtameya (bread, freedom, social justice)” was modified to, “Aysh, Horreya, Tutheer ad-Dakhleya (bread, freedom, purge the Interior Ministry)” in a special mention to the feeling that impunity is rife in the security forces. Mohamed Fatthi, a member of the Way of the Revolution Front, explained: “We won’t allow [pro-Sisi groups] to stain the memory. We want justice and the Interior Ministry needs serious reform before that will be possible.”

The entrance to Mohamed Mahmoud Street from Tahrir had a banner that read: “No entry – army, Brotherhood, remnants of the old regime.” Several coffins lay at the entrance to the street, symbolising those martyred two years ago.

The pink camofuflage graffiti lining the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud

Up on the wall was a large new piece of pink camouflage graffiti – an apparent slight against the armed forces and their supporters who’d intended to occupy the street. In Tahrir itself, there seemed to be a blend of allegiances happily mixing among one another. In fact, it was only clear from the signs they were carrying as to what their affiliations were, with some brandishing portraits of General Sisi and others wearing Third Square T-shirts.

An odd development of the various groups being among one another was the sudden influx of hand-signs depicting allegiances. Occasionally, the famous four-finger “Rabaa” hand sign – a symbol of remembrance to the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp – was held aloft, countered by the two-finger peace sign now claimed by pro-army Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Way of the Revolution Front and other Third Square groups were using the three-finger hand sign, showing an allegiance to neither the army nor the Brotherhood. The sheer amount of hand signs, all meaning representing opposition to each other, made the otherwise peaceful atmosphere slightly surreal.

However, the weirdest part of the day arrived after sunset. As well as being the second anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, the 19th of November was also the second leg of Egypt’s World Cup qualifying match against Ghana. They had lost the first leg 5-1, so needed to win by a five-goal margin in order to make it to the World Cup. That wasn’t exactly likely – but nevertheless, as soon as the match began on the screens set up around Tahrir, the hundreds of chanting demonstrators suddenly fell quiet, squeezing up against each other to watch the match. Egypt won 2-1, but failed to qualify.

After that, as though the preceding 90 minutes had never happened, the chanting continued and small clashes broke out by the Arab League building on the edge of Tahrir Square. For the first time that day, some tear gas was fired to disperse the crowd, a man was killed after being hit by birdshot and the back-and-forth between protesters and security was once again in motion.

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Arrested In Cairo

First published in Vocativ on November 11th

Two riot police backed up towards us and asked me, “Do you have any cigarettes?”  I handed them a couple of cigs and could see that they were suffering from teargas exposure.  Their hands shook so violently I had to light their cigarettes for them.  They were short, skinny and looked incredibly young.  “How old are you guys?” I asked them. “We’re 20” they replied before giving thanks and leaving.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel some pity for these young men, knowing they are conscripts who are treated atrociously by their superiors.  This pity was short lived.

This was the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s “strategic victory” over Israel during the 1973 October War.  With nationalistic fervour already at an all time high thanks to the Army’s help at removing the much despised President, Mohamed Morsi in the July 3 ‘coup-not-a-coup’, this was a day that bordered on the chauvinistic.

The majority Muslim Brotherhood Anti-Coup Alliance had called on four marches to converge on a Tahrir Square that was the setting of unprecedented state security.  My count on the day was at least 10 APCs and a few tanks just for good measure.  All entrances to the Square had several lines of barbed wire and metal detectors – an affront, surely, to a public space that had long been an icon of anti-establishment protest.

Meanwhile the Tamarod group, which had organised the supremely successful campaign that led to Mr Morsi’s removal, had called for a full day of celebration, also in Tahrir Square.  With confrontation predetermined, the bloodshed that came later was just as inevitable.

The day began with a number of fighter jets flying low enough to set off car alarms and shake the dilapidated windows of my flat.  Tahrir Square itself was the scene of a joyous army love-in.  The de jure nationalistic song “Teslam el Ayady” blaring out sentiments so sickly saccharine as to cause tooth decay.

Two officers by a metal detector told me the orders if a Muslim Brotherhood march was to make it to the square.  “We will arrest them,” one said with a shrug.  But if there was any struggle?  The other officer narrowed his eyes and replied in English, “we will shoot them, and we will win”.  I left to cover the Anti-Coup March on the west side of the Nile.

Once the march turned onto Tahrir St, which leads to the Square, the fighting broke out almost instantly.  With teargas canisters flying in from further down Tahrir St, the crowd immediately reversed back onto the street they came from, while the Central Security Forces (CSF) advanced, followed shortly by Army personnel. A fellow journalist and I sheltered in a side alley on Tahrir Street and watched as the riot police passed us by.  By standing in one spot we had moved from the front of the march to the frontlines of the CSF.

Small groups of riot police pointed their shotguns towards the side alleys where cowering men and women withdrew to; occasionally firing what I hoped were blank rounds.  As the teargas subsided, we cautiously made our way out.

Beyond the CSF some 30 meters stood the protesters, waving, shouting and throwing rocks.  Burning tyres were already beginning to obscure my view of them.  The riot police continued to fire teargas towards them, an unholy swirling mixture of black and white smoke engulfing the protesters.  One CSF member who had clearly watched too many action movies started shooting his shotgun into the crowd one-handed; he was smiling.

Then a CSF recruit grabbed me on the back of the neck.  He slapped me on the head repeatedly as his friend took my camera from around my neck and my phone from my pocket.   The gentlemen marched me towards a small alley that leads off Tahrir St where I could see a number of other Egyptian men being penned in by some riot police.

I fumbled in my wallet for my press pass.  Not one month old, my newly acquired pass, issued from the Cairo Press Centre, was shown to senior member of the CSF.  He looked at it and saw that it said “British”.  He looked up at me and back down at my photo a few times before saying, in English, “I’m sorry”.

They gave me back my bag and my camera but the officer held onto my press pass.  Assuming I was free to go I enquired as to the whereabouts of my phone and motioned for my pass.

Instead I received a hefty push in the back and I suddenly found myself with the other detained men. I called to a nearby CSF recruit and told him I was a British journalist and there was some misunderstanding, he told me to put my hands behind my back.  I reiterated my point and received a slap in the face for my troubles.

What has long been a blessing was suddenly a curse.  I have an ability to pass off as Egyptian.  I don’t get any grief when I walk around alone and I tend not to get ripped off by ‘foreigner’s prices’.  The worst that had happened up till then was an awkward exchange at a hotel bar during Ramadan, when the barman refused me service until I produced an Egyptian ID card that betrays your religion.

We were all frog marched in a line down Tahrir St.  I spied the journalist I had been with and he nodded his head to me.  “Thank god someone I know saw this happen,” I thought.

Video cameras appeared from nowhere to, no doubt, document the “successful capture of terrorists by the glorious state security”.  A man in a suit appeared from nowhere and started berating us.  I was genuinely shocked by the look of disgust on his face.  I have never before seen such visceral hatred in person.  He was practically foaming at the mouth, spitting at us, and calling us dogs and worse.  Before departing he ensured to take leave with a slap on my face.  It was unfortunate that I was at the front of the line.

I could see the large blue shell of the police van that was to transport me to the police station, but not before we were told to get on our knees by the sidewalk.

As they started to handcuff everyone with cable ties, I tried again to explain that, “I am a journalist! A British Journalist!”  I repeated it in Arabic and English but the policeman who eventually came to my pleas only proceeded to take my camera bag, camera in tow.  Then they picked me up and started marching all ten of us to the van.

I believe this was the point when I started to panic.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” was all that went through my head.  In a state of panic, eloquence is the first casualty.  I was pretty sure that was the last I would see of my camera, phone and bag, replete with voice recorder and notepads.  That’s a lot of money and work when you’re freelancing.

I was thrown into the back of the van.  There was already one man inside as well as a police officer, the latter beating the former in a repulsively calculated fashion; kicking each leg, then punching the kidneys, then working his way to slaps on the head before starting from the bottom again.  It was somehow more chilling that this all took place in complete silence, no swearing, nothing.

I shamelessly prepared myself once again with the, “I’m a British journalist” that had worked such wonders before.  He gave me a look, but nevertheless he declined me the same treatment.  The others were not so lucky.

We were driven all of a minute to the Dokki Police Station just down the road from where I was picked up.  As the door opened we were ordered to march through a group of CSF, every one of them landing a kick or a slap on us as we passed them down into the basement of the police station.

The basement itself was a sad sight, decrepit and soul sapping, although that is presumably the point.  Filigrees of damp crawled across the walls towards the barred windows where they died in the light.  A comical stand-alone cage is propped alongside one of the walls and we are duly crammed into it.

Two policemen readied themselves by a nearby door, one standing on a table and the other below him.  We were taken out, one by one, and liberated from what belongings we had left on us.  I was the second man to be frisked.  The man on the table kicks me in the hip while his friend below grabs my face and points to my belt.  I remove it without hesitation and am whipped with it.  It’s surprisingly infuriating to be whipped by a belt you provided.

In the room, I’m set to my knees.  There are two women in the room and about twenty men, not one of them without some bruise, abrasion or cut visible.  As the others are poured in, the room begins to fill up.  It’s a tiny room with one barred window that was shuttered off to ground level.  I could just make out the Sheraton hotel through the trees.

Eventually a plain-clothes policeman comes into the room and starts taking down the name, age and address of everyone.  When he gets to me I decide this is the best chance I have at being released.  I put on my best BBC accent and proclaim “Adam Patrick Ramsey”.  I knew my best bet at getting out was now playing the ‘British’ card.  It’s a privilege I knew my fellow detainees couldn’t exploit, but my moral pillars crumbled in the circumstances, much to my disappointment.

The ‘Adam Ramsey’ part of my name is far too close to being an Egyptian name, so I decided to throw in one of my middle names.  I thought it best to omit my other middle name, “Omar”.

“Adam what Ramsey?” he asks me.  “Adam Patrick Ramsey” I say again before continuing, “I’m a British journalist”.  “How old are you?” he suddenly asks in English before rooting through my wallet, where he thankfully finds my UK drivers license.  Before I can answer he leaves the room only to return, incensed and suddenly speaking Arabic again.

“Born in Saudi Arabia eh?”  I completely forgot that for some reason the UK license puts your country of birth.  Rather than explain that I’m half-Malaysian half-Northern Irish and that I had little say in the place of my birth (never mind the fact Saudi is giving Egypt billions in aid), I decided to act coy.  “I don’t understand you,” I said in terrible Arabic.  “Fuck Saudi!” He replies, before throwing my license onto a pile of Egyptian IDs just outside the door.

The door is closed and the temperature slowly rises.  A 50-year old teacher nods his head gently against my shoulder.  I turn around and see a face of genuine sympathy, “I am sorry,” he says.

“Look”, he motioned to a corner of the room.  I had completely missed a man of at least 60 crumpled in the corner.  Both his legs were covered with birdshot, blood slowly pooling around his feet.  I looked at the blood and the smell immediately became unbearable.

Outside the window a couple of CSF recruits looked in but all I could see were their legs.  Suddenly, the barrel of a teargas gun is rested on one of the bars.  When pain subsides and boredom sets in, the imagination plays fast and loose.  I immediately recollect the story I read of the 36 men who suffocated to death in police custody.

Of course, in the end, the recruits simply walked away, but I was still shivering over the thought of what it would have been like, picturing what I would do were they to have fired tear gas at us.  Probably die, was the conclusion I came to.

We could hear screams from outside the door, which would open only to reveal yet another poor man who was being flogged for no reason other than to sate the appetites of these megalomaniacal sadists.  They wouldn’t stop until a scream or yelp was emitted, before then pushing him into the room to join us.  They were practically high-fiving each other at their new and ingenious methods of delivering pain.  In five years at a boy’s boarding house I never witnessed such levels of hyper-masculine pageantry.  They fit the stereotype of despotic state security so perfectly it would have been funny if it were not so depressing.

After around an hour and a half, they decided to move us to another room.  By now we were standing, packed like sardines, sweat beating off us.  The two women had been removed long ago to God knows where and they hauled the birdshot man to get, I hope, some medical attention.

Policemen lined our path and hit us as we passed them into a room some 20 meters away.  Except it was not even a room, rather a miniscule, enclosed courtyard in the middle of the building.  Sixty of us squeezed our way in.

The tiled floors were dusty and covered in rubbish and aberrant marks of dried blood.  I was pushed to my knees once again.  I turned and tried to reason with my captors.  I heard the desperation in my voice, but it was quickly cut off by a kick to the back. “Look straight ahead!” Would be the catchphrase for the rest of the evening.

I found it almost physically impossible to turn from a man who was hitting me, and this only prolonged the smacking.  I finally turned and stayed turned, covering the back of my head.  I noticed that everyone else was in exactly the same position.

This was by far the most painful part of the day.  Far more than any whipping, slapping, kicking or punching.  Kneeling for close to 3 hours left me almost incapable of walking once we were finally asked to stand.  We were so crammed together there wasn’t space for me to put my hands on the floor to help shift my weight.

During this time I studied the back of the man kneeling in front of me.  The different rips and blood stains, the open wound on his upper right shoulder, where the blood began to coagulate, haemostasis working its magic.  I could feel the man behind me resting his head on my back.  As the sun set the call for prayer was heard and incredibly (after asking a guard’s permission) everyone somehow pivoted towards Mecca and began to pray, still crouched.

As time passed, the men started whispering to one another and I took the chance to see where everyone else came from.  They were taken from the same area as me.  Some openly said they were part of the march, while others swore blind that it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time.  All but one was experiencing arrest for the first time.

“Don’t worry, your embassy will help” one said to me.  “Yeah, but only if they know he’s here,” replied the man behind him.  “Just stay… what’s the word?  Optimistic” said the man behind me, his head still resting on my back. I couldn’t believe how well everyone was dealing with it, some even risking  humour.

The man in front suddenly gave that old trope that every visitor to Egypt would have heard a thousand times.  “Welcam to Eegipt” he said.  Everyone burst into laughter.  “Shut up!” was the guard’s reaction.

After an hour or so, someone decided to ask for some water.  With all of us facing the wall in front, we were suddenly pelted with small bottles from behind, the plastic pinging off heads and backs.  These were shortly followed by near inedible packets of knock-off Borios (itself a knock-off Oreo).

“Mohamed Adel Mohamed?” a policeman suddenly asked.  A young man to my left turned around, his face lighting up “Yes! That’s me.”  He said with a look of pure hope.  “Do you live in Imbaba?” queried the policeman. “Yes, yes!” replied the man.  “Ok! Could you please… stay there,” he said.

He would do this every five minutes or so with a different person.  It was a cruel twist moving from physical punishment to the emotional.

Suddenly, I hear “Is there a British national here?”  I immediately twist around, my hand in the air, “Yes!” I replied.  “Oh no, we need someone who was born in Saudi and is half-Malaysian”.  “Yeah… That’s still me,” maybe the embassy had called, I thought.  Maybe they finally realised that I really was a British journalist and are letting me out, “OK thanks, just stay there,” he smiled at me.

Of course he was just deluding me like he had everyone else.  Hope is an incredibly tenacious emotion that can survive a lot of trauma, but can also make you feel immensely stupid for trusting in it.

After evening prayers, I began to resign myself to staying the night.  My legs were numb by now so pain wasn’t a problem.  The smell of noxious vinegar began to grate as more men began pissing themselves – I was happy to realise that this was the one type of relief I was not in need of.

At around 10pm, just over six hours after I was initially arrested, we were suddenly asked to stand up.  I almost collapsed as my knees screamed bloody murder.  Leaning on the man in front of me, I steadied myself and we filed out of the room and upstairs.  We were told to queue up in front of a notice board.  I read the yellowed certificates and newspaper clippings in recognition of the Police station’s valiant work of past decades.

Once again we were pulled aside, one by one, and our details recorded.  Depending on the answer you gave, you were directed to one of two corners of the room.  I readied myself once again.  Same BBC accent, same reply of “Adam, what, Ramsey?” But this time, for a reason I still cannot figure out, I was separated from the rest and placed in a different corner by myself.

I stayed there silently while they sorted through the two groups, one with around 12 men and the other closer to 50.  All looked exhausted, the blood on their shirts now that dull brown colour.

After some paperwork and backslapping the policemen sent the larger group back downstairs.  The smaller group and I were free to leave.  I immediately searched for a man I could communicate in English with.  One man cordially obliged, until I began asking questions like “Why was I detained? I had a press pass issued in Egypt.”  Suddenly, he became a mute, all hand signs, shakes of the head and dumbfounded expression.

I later found out that another foreign journalist had been detained in almost exactly the same area at exactly the same time as me.  Having spoken to him about it, there is a good chance we actually travelled to the station in the same van, but he was sitting in the front.  While I was on my knees, he was being questioned in an office ten meters away.  The main differences between us that I could see were that: he is a little whiter than me; had his passport on him; yet he did not have an Egypt-approved press pass.  The value of a press pass is questionable when it doesn’t guarantee a journalist is free from harassment or arbitrary detention.

The question is not just why a foreign national, or a journalist, can be detained like this, but why such conditions continue at all, for anyone.  What I experienced looks dramatic on paper, but in reality, it was relatively trivial.  I was kept for around 7 hours, that’s it.  It’s a nightmare reality that gets much worse for far too many, far too often.  Think of the Frenchman that was murdered in his cell, the Canadians who eventually went on hunger strike, the Al Jazeera reporters who are still being detained.  Never mind the thousands of normal Egyptians that you won’t have heard of who are still in prison, some being tortured.  These conditions have existed through Mubarak, The SCAF, Morsi and now Sisi.  It’s nothing new.

But in the current nationalistic rapture, the state security can (and do) now point to a popular approval as mandating them and therefore endorsing these methods.  It brings to mind Alexis De Tocqueville’s concept of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, where the sovereignty of this or that majority trumps the sovereignty of mankind – a lamentable state of affairs.

Walking down the street I flag a taxi to take me home.  “Welcome to Egypt” says the taxi driver with a grin.  On the radio ‘Teslam el Ayady’ is playing.

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The Chaotic Start of Mohamed Morsi’s Trial


Morsi supporters gathered outside the court

First Published in Vice on Tuesday November 5th

 

Yesterday, for the first time in four months, Egypt’s deposed Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, appeared in public. Since his ousting on July 3 the interim government and armed forces have gone to great lengths to keep his whereabouts a secret. The inevitable speculation made for some interesting gossip: Was he rotting in jail in Alexandria? Was he effectively being held captive in the Republican Guard HQ? Was he, for whatever reason, in Qatar? Could he even be dead?

If he is found guilty of the charges against him, death will become a very real possibility for Morsi. He, along with 14 other high-ranking members of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, are accused of a multitude of crimes, including incitement to murder.

On December 5 last year, a march staged by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood intentionally made its way to an anti-Morsi sit-in outside the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace. Predictably violence ensued, with 11 people dead—three of them non-Brotherhood. Reports subsequently emerged that Brotherhood members had set up makeshift torture rooms and graphic stories leaked out over the proceeding weeks. The question now is how much Morsi, or Brotherhood leaders, had to do with any of it.

Less than 24 hours before his trial was due to start, the location of the courtroom was finally released: New Cairo’s Police Academy—exactly where Egypt’s pre-Morsi leader Hosni Mubarak had his trials and verdict announcement about two years ago. The room that Morsi stood in yesterday is exactly where Mubarak had been wheeled out to stand, the courtroom having been specifically built for his trial.

As journalists and lawyers poured into the room, it was clear that this was an ad hoc job. What seemed to have once been a lecture hall had been split in two, one half a jumble of mesh, bars and cage, the other half tiers of benches.

Down in the corner were six leading members of the Brotherhood, their white prison uniforms just visible through the mesh. Once everyone was in place they chanted in unison, “We are not a military state!” and, “Down! Down! With military rule!” The response from the lawyers’ section of the hall was immediate. Some held up the four-finger salute that has become a symbol of Muslim Brotherhood solidarity and joined in with the detainees’ chanting, while other cried out, “Execution!” Simply put, it was the polarization of Egyptian society in microcosm.

After the dust had settled, the judges came out and ordered silence. Presiding judge, Ahmed Sabry, had just about taken his seat when a loud clapping sound could be heard coming from the cells. Morsi appeared to the applause of his arrested colleagues. Having apparently refused to wear the white prison uniform, he instead opted for a dark blue suit, with a white shirt and open collar. He waved, setting off another few minutes of yelling and chanting. A journalist down from me suddenly lost it and started yelling, “Execution! Execution!”

Morsi’s strategy for the trial was clear well before it had even started. He has always clung to the absolute authority of “legitimacy” because he’s certain he has it—this is widely disputed. Astatement released through IkhwanWeb—the Brotherhood’s official English-language website—a week before the trial stated, “The legitimate president and legal team totally reject the trial.”

Morsi remained as defiant in person, not waiting to deliver a statement to the massed judges, lawyers, and journalists. Talking over the judge, he proclaimed, “I am the legitimate president of the republic! This is an illegal coup and I do not recognize the court! I have respect for the Egyptian judiciary, but they are being used as a cover for the coup!” Later, he extended some advice to the security services, warning, “Never let anyone turn you against the Egyptian people!”

The trial was chaotic, with the judges, defendants, and lawyers all yelling at one another, forcing two temporary breaks in proceedings. It seemed to be Morsi and Mohamed el Beltagy (an important Brotherhood member) who were most vocal in decrying the politicized nature of the process they were caught up in and the charges brought against them. Beltagy often interrupted the judge with cries of “Illegal!” and “Illegitimate!” whenever certain topics were touched upon.

After the court was stopped the first time, a fight broke out among the lawyers, which sounds odd but wasn’t all that surprising given they were openly calling for polar-opposite goals. Morsi stuck to the plan and refused any negotiations or interactions with the court. When offered the chance to have his old legal companion Mohamed Selim Al-Awa as his lawyer for the trial, he simply restated, “I am the legitimate president of the republic!”

The lawyers didn’t seem in too much of a rush to get on with things either, begging the judge for more time to read through the 7,000-page case for proper preparation. Eventually, after a second break was forced due to raucous behavior, Judge Sabry adjourned the trial until January 8, 2014.


One of Morsi’s defense lawyers being held aloft by Brotherhood supporters after the adjournment

Outside the huge compound, a congregation of about 300 Morsi supporters waited chanting. Making my way back through the police and onto their side I was bombarded with questions. When they found out that Morsi had not complied whatsoever and had another trial date set for January, there was a mixture of pride and anger among those I spoke with.

“The whole court is corrupt,” declared Mahmoud Suleiman, a Morsi supporter outside the Police Academy. “Why would he agree to do anything with them? He is my president and the legitimate president of Egypt.” As pro-Brotherhood lawyers made their way out they were greeted with cheer, each one surrounded for interviews and occasionally lifted onto the shoulders of the crowd. The odd ant-Morsi lawyer who accidentally came through this exit needed to make a quick getaway or face a beating.

Elsewhere in Egypt, numerous small protests took place and minor trouble flared whenever pro-Morsi met anti-Morsi or riot police. It was the final day of a raft of protests planned by the Anti-Coup Alliance, but in light of Morsi’s defiant actions, they released a new statement that called for a new “million man” march today, naming it, the World Salutes the President’s Resolve.

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Morsi trial adjourned until 2014 after chaos in Cairo court

First published in the Irish Times on Monday November 4th

 

After four months in secret detention, Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi appeared in court alongside 14 other members of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Facing an array of charges, Mr Morsi refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court, repeatedly shouting, “I am the president of the republic”. After a rowdy two hours the trial was adjourned until January 8th.

Since the military removed Mr Morsi from office on July 3rd, he has been held in an undisclosed location with little external communication. He and his co-defendants face charges of inciting the killing of protesters who massed outside the presidential palace in December last year and demanded he call off a referendum on a new constitution drafted by his Islamist allies.

If convicted, the defendants could face the death penalty.

An estimated 20,000 security personnel were stationed around key areas in Cairo in advance of the opening day of the trial. The court location, in the New Cairo Police Academy, 25km from central Cairo, was not disclosed until Sunday and any person getting in was required to go through five security checks.

No electronic devices were permitted and police set up barriers to the public far from the entry to the sprawling compound. The courtroom was built specifically for the trial of Hosni Mubarak, the former president who was deposed in 2011 and remains under house arrest in a military hospital.

Here it was being used to try Mr Mubarak’s democratically elected successor.

Resembling a lecture hall, the room had been fitted with large ad hoc prison cells and half of it was obscured by the mesh of wire and bars. At one end, six Muslim Brotherhood members, including leading members Mohamed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, waited in silence, dressed in white prison uniforms.

After journalists and lawyers filled the stands, the six suddenly began chanting in unison “Down with military rule!” and “We are not a police state!”

A female lawyer in the crowd shouted back “Execution! God willing.” Other lawyers sympathetic to the Brotherhood held up the four-finger salute that has become a sign of support for the now suppressed organisation.

Chaotic scenes

Mr Morsi eventually made his way into the courtroom to applause from his Brotherhoo

d colleagues and amid chaotic scenes. Journalists and lawyers stood on their chairs, then tables, to get a better look at the man who had managed to create this visceral bifurcation in Egyptian society after only one year in power.

The deposed president, dressed in a dark blue suit and white shirt with open collar, smiled and held his hands up to the crowd, looking healthy and resolute.

The judge, Ahmed Sabry, called for calm in order to begin proceedings. But he managed to get only as far as a roll call of the defendants before being interrupted by Mr Morsi.

“This was an illegal military coup. I am Dr Mohamed Morsi and I am the legitimate president,” he began, slowly raising his voice so he could be heard over the loudspeakers, through which Judge Sabry could be heard calling for order.

“I am here against my will,” Mr Morsi continued. “I believe in the great Egyptian judiciary and I don’t want them being used as a cover for the coup.”

Eruption of noise
Once again, the courtroom erupted into noise as some lawyers chanted “Execution!” while others chanted Morsi’s name. After less than 15 minutes, Judge Sabry adjourned the court for an hour and Mr Morsi was removed from the cell and out of view.

In a statement last week, a Brotherhood legal team had also challenged the legitimacy of the charges against Mr Morsi. “We reaffirm now, that no lawyers will be defending President Mohamed Morsi . . . because the president does not recognise the trial or any of the actions and processes that resulted from the coup, such as the politicisation of the judiciary,” it said.

During the enforced break, some lawyers began holding aloft portraits of al-Hosseini Abu Deif, a journalist who was one of those killed during the clashes last December. This provoked an outbreak of shouting and scuffling that required intervention from the courtroom’s security.

Eventually, the court reassembled and charges were read out, but the defendants again challenged the legitimacy of the proceedings. Asked how he pleaded to the charges, Mr Beltagy replied simply, “This is all illegal”.

Mr Morsi had refused to have a lawyer so according to standard legal procedures, will be appointed one by the judge. The lawyers who were present pleaded with the judge to give them more time to work through the 7,000 pages of case papers.

Prison disclosed
After further disruptions the judge temporarily halted proceedings again before finally adjourning the case until January 8th, 2014. The defendants were quickly led out of their cell and state TV later reported that Mr Morsi was now being kept in Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria, the secrecy of his whereabouts apparently no longer a priority.

Outside the courtroom, a few hundred Morsi supporters chanted in support of their president. They carried out Brotherhood legal representatives on their shoulders while chasing away the odd prosecution lawyer who made the mistake of exiting through them.

After news broke of the new trial date, mixed feelings were expressed about the meaning of this first trial. “Today doesn’t matter, it’s just paperwork, I am here to show support to my president, the only president, Mohamed Morsi,” said Ahmed, who had been at the police academy since 8am.

Mahmoud Suleiman, a manual worker from Cairo, was, however, incensed at the prolonging of this “fake trial”. Through a Morsi mask he said: “He is the president, he won elections, he got the constitution, how can he be in prison for so long? How is that possible?”

Elsewhere in Egypt, pro-Morsi protests were held in several governorates, with relatively small clashes breaking out in Cairo, Alexandria and Asyut, where pro-Morsi protesters met riot police and anti-Morsi protesters. Further protests have been called for today.

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Egypt’s Foreign Aid


(Photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy)

First published on VICE, here, on August 28th, 2013

Following what a recent Human Rights Watch report called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history”, the international community’s response appeared to be just as divided as those within Egypt.

While Western countries condemned the disproportionate actions of the security forces, nations like Saudi Arabia applauded the self-restraint of the Egyptian army and noted their fight against “terrorism and sedition”.

Serious calls were made in the United States to consider suspending Egypt’s $1.55 billion (£970 million) in aid ($1.3 billion of which is part of the US’ Foreign Military Financing scheme). US senators pointed to a 1986 Congress appropriations bill that stated that the flow of funds to a country could be cut if its head of government was “deposed by military coup or decree” – which appears to be why Obama has thus far hesitated to define the social uprising as a coup in public.

Back in the UK, Labour have told the coalition government to “press the US to halt supplying arms to Egypt” just as Foreign Secretary William Hague has declared that “it is not for us to take sides”. The EU, meanwhile, has called for a meeting to discuss whether the €5 billion (£3.2 billion) in loans and grants it has set aside for Egypt will make it there now that Morsi has is no longer in charge.

Clearly, nothing drastic seems likely to happen soon, as the majority of Western states still wrangle over whether to impose economic sanctions on Egypt.

Since Egypt’s initial revolution began in January of 2011, the economy has been rapidly sinking. The budget deficit rose to 14 percent of GDP – the highest it has been for well over a decade – and the government continued to spend its foreign reserves on attempting to prop up a floundering currency, an act that actually left their reserves short in reaching a stipulation for the IMF loan they had longed for. Meanwhile, tourism – an important and well-established sector of Egypt’s economy – continues to suffer from the fallout of constant violence.

The threat of temporary economic suspension from Western states may have once caused concern among the Egyptian government, especially considering the state of the economy. However, the increase of aid from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia has debilitated their influence, at least through the economic route, according to Adel Beshai, a senior professor at American University Cairo.

“It more than negates the money Egypt would lose from any economic sanctions. These countries are lavishing Egypt,” explained Beshai, who also serves as Member of the Supreme Council for Policy in Egypt.

All in all, Saudi, the UAE and Kuwait have pledged to give $12 billion (£7.7 billion) in aid. Meanwhile, Qatar – considered the strongest ally of the Muslim Brotherhood – denied accusations it would cut off aid to Egypt and has continued with the plans it made with deposed President Mohamed Morsi to provide Egypt with $18 billion (£11.6 billion) over the next five years.

Moreover, Saudi’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal promised that any financial gaps resulting from Western sanctions would be filled. Such a pledge immediately makes any case for economic sanctions providing leverage for the West completely redundant.

Beshai notes that, with regards to the $1.55 billion in aid that the US promises, the $1.3 billion that is designated for the Egyptian military is “part and parcel of [the Camp David Accords] and I really doubt they will risk pulling that… anyway, none of that will affect the average Egyptian on the street… it affects Israel and 200,000 workers in America instead”.

Indeed, American pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, has been campaigning to maintain military ties with the Egyptian Armed Forces – yet another example of pragmatic geopolitics creating unusual bedfellows.

All rumours of the US suspending their military aid have been strongly denied by Washington, and their masterful showing of prevarication in labelling Morsi’s ousting a “coup” – they have yet to make an official statement nearly two months after the event – shows their intent in maintaining its strategic ties with Egypt without crossing any legal Rubicon.

Instead, the White House has been toying with the idea of suspending the financial aid that is not military bound, but at only $250 million (£161 million) Beshai believes the Egyptian government would “consider it an insignificant amount”.

In an interview with CNN, President Obama pointed to his “sense” that “the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does”, but assured those watching that there is “no doubt that we can’t return to business as usual” with Egypt’s Armed Forces – though no specifics were given to what changes may be made.

As with the cancellation of the two countries’ joint military exercise “Bright Star”, the point of any punitive economic action is not to damage, but to make a point to the Egyptian military’s top brass; it’s a slap in the face without leaving a bruise.

Last week, Catherine Ashton – the EU High Representative – spoke after their “extraordinary meeting of Foreign Affairs Council on Egypt” saying, “We have agreed… that assistance to the most vulnerable groups and to civil society must continue.” Within their statement, they pointed to the EU’s relationship with Egypt and decided that the best course of action was to continue with their €5 billion (£4.3 billion) of aid due in the fiscal year of 2014.

However, EU member states did agree to “suspend export licences to Egypt of any equipment used for internal repression”.

Rejecting the sympathetic angle of the EU towards Egypt’s “most vulnerable”, Beshai instead pointed to the inherently symbiotic nature of aid: “If you give me aid, you’re not doing it because you love me. It’s mutual – it is not a one-way relationship at all.”

The overall sentiment of the current Egyptian government with regards to foreign aid appears to be one of cautious contentment. Ahmed Galal, the interim finance minister, expressed gratitude in a press conference to the “friends” who were providing aid to Egypt. He even stated that the much-desired IMF fund that shadowed Morsi’s presidential term, “is not excluded [from Egypt’s future], but is not the one that will make or break it for us”.

Beshai explained how the interim government and the army would be “cautious with what they say in public, but behind closed doors they know they will be more than alright for now”. Pointing to the markets in Asia and Latin America, he suggests that there would be absolutely no worry with the armed forces were economic sanctions to be brought upon them, not that they would claim that publicly.

“Alienating the Western states, specifically the US, long-term would be something Egypt would want to avoid,” says Beshai, “but for now they know the Gulf States and Saudi cover them well enough. I mean, even as far as the [Egyptian] military is concerned, we live in a globalised world, and right now buying military equipment is easier than buying certain brands of food. They won’t be shuddering in their boots.”

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What Happened to Democracy, Freedom, Stability?

First published in the New Internationalist on 2 July

The day before Mohamed Morsi was sworn into power as Egypt’s first civilian President in 2012, he came to a packed Tahrir Square and opened his jacket to show the jubilant crowd that he was wearing no body armour. A ‘man of the people’, he promised them ‘a new life of absolute freedom, a genuine democracy, and stability’.

His one-year anniversary as president, 30 June, was a date that many had marked in their calendars, but not as one of celebration, with talk of a ‘second revolution’ to overthrow the ‘illegitimate’ president. Egyptians began stocking up on food and fuel, wary of the possibility of an even more turbulent phase in the coming weeks, perhaps months.

As it happened, the date itself drew an unprecedented number of Egyptians into the streets. Numbers in a group can be difficult to judge, but when ‘millions’ seems a safe estimate, you know you are witnessing something historic.

For now, the main opposition groups, themselves an amalgamation of uneasy alliances, have managed to rally around the ‘Tamarod’ (Rebel) campaign’s call for mass protests.

Angry at his mishandling of the economy; his November declaration; and his inability to establish security, they are asking for Morsi to step down and for early elections to be called. In two months they managed to gather 22 million signatories (although this figure is impossible to verify) – 9 million more than voted for Morsi in last year’s elections.

But statements from the Tamarod campaign have caused confusion as to the level of support it actually has. The movement’s willingness to apply the maxim ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ to its full potential has alienated many Egyptians who don’t suffer from such short-term memory loss.

While walls still bear graffiti with sentiments such as ‘Fuck SCAF’ (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and ‘Down with the military rule’, the Tamarod campaign has been fawning over the military and, incredibly, the much-hated Interior Ministry.

Seas of red cards have been waved around in places like Tahrir. One side reads ‘Red card for Mohamed Morsi. Leave’; the other proclaims: ‘The army, the people and the Interior Ministry are one hand.’ This is a sentiment that leaves many of my Egyptian friends exasperated.

Nevertheless, that so many people are willing to overlook the historically disastrous and often deadly relationship between the army and the Interior Ministry speaks volumes as to how much ire Morsi has managed to inspire in his first year of premiership. ‘As long as Morsi leaves, I am happy. He must leave, for Egypt[‘s sake], that is the most important thing right now,’ says Mohamed Sharif, a protester in Tahrir Square.

Meanwhile, the pro-Morsi, pro-Muslim brotherhood camp is incensed at the idea that early elections could ever be called for. Although many that once voted for him have now become part of the opposition, the majority of his support base see it that Morsi won a fair election and is thus guaranteed four years in office. If the opposition forces manage to annul this constitutionally bound law, then it sets a troubling precedent that may portend a never-ending cycle of constant calls of illegitimacy for succeeding presidents – a point made by Morsi himself.

Were Morsi to stand down and call for early elections, however unlikely that currently is, then a backlash would be almost certain. A very sizeable group, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, would feel aggrieved. Having spent the vast majority of their existence in persecution, they would see this as yet another example of unjust discrimination.

Many of the anti-Morsi groups are wary of calling for military intervention, a scenario that the army has not ruled out. Still others would be happy to see it happen, if only because it seems the only plausible way that Morsi would heed the calls of early elections.

At the time of writing, at least 10 people have been killed and over 500 injured since 30 June. The deaths occurred within Cairo and south of Cairo in the cities of Beni Suef and Assiut, but the overall level of violence, particularly when the numbers are borne in mind, are much smaller than many had anticipated.

For now, the unexpectedly high turnout for the 30 June protests has inspired the Tamarod campaign to send President Morsi an ultimatum: resign by Tuesday, or face a mass campaign of civil disobedience.

Late on Sunday evening the Presidential spokesperson asserted that the only way out of the current political impasse would be dialogue. Inviting all the major opposition parties, he said that ‘dialogue is the only way to reach a consensus’, adding: ‘The presidency aims to reach serious national reconciliation to pull the country out of its current state of polarisation.’ The problem with this route is that calls for national dialogue have been rejected again and again and again in the past.

Then, on 1 July, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, took everyone by surprise and issued his own 48-hour ultimatum. Choosing his words carefully (he never said Morsi had to go), he said that the ‘unprecedented turnout’ signalled that the parties must come together to ‘meet the people’s demands’ or face a military-imposed roadmap for the country’s political future.

Morsi was quick to rebuff this statement and labelled it an effective coup d’état that would never succeed without the backing of the Americans. However, as time passes, it seems that Morsi’s future has crossed a Rubicon and those out protesting know it.

Five ministers have now resigned following the protests, including the Foreign Minister. Pro and anti-Morsi groups have met this breaking news with anger and delight respectively so now, as each side becomes more desperate, more clashes seem likely. It seems beyond doubt that the next few weeks will be momentous for Egypt’s future.

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