Tensions rise in Cairo – as rebellious Egyptians hold their breath – until the 30th of June

By: Mona Abdel-Fadil, Senior Researcher, Fafo Institute of Applied International Studies.

In Cairo, there is a sense of great apprehension looming over the city – reminiscent of a big black cloud threatening to erupt into a vicious storm. What appears to be on everybody’s minds and tongues is one major upcoming event:  the 30th of June.  ‘All’ are discussing what might happen on that day.  Hopes mix with fears. Yet, anxieties appear to dominate the minds of most Egyptians.  Worst-case scenarios of clashes, bloodshed, and even civil war, foster in many people’s imaginations and frequently find their way to everyday conversations and media commentaries.  Some talk of the 30th of June as the ultimate test of where Egypt will be going – if anywhere at all.

So, what is the significance of June 30th?

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It is the date when oppositional forces plan to present the current Egyptian president Mursi with an overwhelming number of signatures asking for early presidential elections. Dubbed ‘the Rebel (Tamarud) Campaign’ it aims to gather over 15 million signatures in support of early presidential elections.  Rebel campaigners’ planned march to the presidential palace, on June 30th can in effect be considered a demand for the Mursi’s resignation.

The Rebel Campaign is certainly a vote of lack of confidence in Mursi’s reign. It is a decisive moment for Egypt. Why? Few local political commentators believe that Mursi and his followers will give up their power without a fight. And, it is ‘the fight’ that is what ‘everybody’ dreads. How dirty will the fight be, how bloody, how many lives will be lost – and most importantly – will Egypt recover? In other words – will it be worth it? Or, will Egypt be thrust into an even deeper political crisis and more turmoil? All of these questions occupy the vivid imaginations of many Egyptians who fear for the future of their country, or more precisely fret about whether there will be a future for their country. The current conflict with Ethiopia about the Nile only adds to the anxieties of many already distraught Egyptians.

All over Cairo and other localities, you see individuals standing in the streets holding up Tamarud Forms, trying to gather signatures to encourage president Mursi to call for early presidential elections. A cursory glance at people standing in the streets with Rebel Forms, shows people of all ages and both genders with an assortment of clothing adorning their bodies, from tight jeans to niqab. In other words, opposition of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, does not necessarily follow the simplistic divide between religious and secular affiliations.

The Tamarud (Rebel) Campaign – has caused a stir in the already chaotic political landscape of transitional Egypt. Many Egyptians are not only dissatisfied with president Mursi’s leadership – but also with the electoral process which led to his election. By demanding early presidential elections – Mursi’s opponents are addressing these two problems. One of the aims of the Rebel campaign is to demonstrate that there are as many (or more) millions of Egyptians dissatisfied with Mursi as the number of Egyptians who voted for him in the presidential election.

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An important part of the current level of anxiety and bravery – is that all who sign the Rebel campaign do so with their full name and identity.  In fact, they register their signature with their national ID number. The reason for this is dual: 1) to counter any accusations of fake signatures. 2) to demonstrate lack of fear of repercussions. However, it is not lost on any of those signing the Rebel Forms that their exact identity and opposition towards the Muslim Brotherhood is going on record.  The hope of course is that when tens of millions of Egyptians sign their names on a political oppositional campaign form, collective punishment is out of the question. Still, some Egyptians fear that they will be part of a selection of people who will be reprimanded for their expression of dissent.

The fact that some of the Tamarud campaigners standing on street corners in Alexandria and Cairo, collecting signatures, have already suffered from violent attacks –illustrates that fears of negative sanctions are not entirely unfounded. And, when coupled with reports that there have been several attempts at break -ins with the intent to steal signed Rebel Forms, this certainly suggests that some of Mursi’s supporters are getting very uneasy about the entire Rebel Campaign – and its potential ramifications. It is understandable, that Mursi’s followers may not be all that enthused by the prospect of early presidential re-elections – for fear of loosing the presidency and eventually the majority of Islamist seats in parliament.  For, Mursi supporters are aware that the tides are changing.

By attempting to speed up the process of electing a new president, the Tamarud Campaign successfully unites those disenchanted by the Muslim Brotherhood. The motivations for wishing for a change may stem from different concerns. While some are ardent in their opposition to all sorts of Islamists, others voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, but are deeply disappointed by what they perceive as the Brotherhood’s power hunger and lack of professionalism. Yet others, still, are aggravated by how much harder everyday life has become in Egypt due to inefficient leadership and lack of planning at the macro level.

A string of jokes are currently circulating in Egypt about how Mubarak’s cronies (fulul) were thieves yes, but at least they could plan ahead! These sardonic jokes are sparked by what is conceived as the extreme inaptitude of the country’s top politicians to secure its citizens basic services such as water, gas, and electricity supplies.  Daily power cuts ensue in most parts of the country, sometimes for several hours in a row. These electricity cuts are random in the sense that inhabitants do not know when they will take place. There is also a severe shortage of gas and diesel – leading to rationing and long lines at gas stations, which in turn leads to delays in the transportation of goods, amongst other troubles.  In addition, several areas are constantly plagued by water shortages. All of this is in addition to the remote areas or illegal housing settlements, which are outside of the loop of service deliveries, in the first place. This state of affairs fuels anger and dissatisfaction with Mursi and his inability to get the country on the right track. Nonetheless, there may be Brotherhood followers and Salafists, who would be willing to fight tooth and nail for the continued political influence of their organization(s).

Egyptian everyday conversations and media have been bursting with suspicions that militant Islamists will unleash armed militias, onto the Tamarud campaigners and demonstrators on June 30th – intercepting their march to the presidential palace. Reports portraying Salafi preachers more than insinuating that they will tell their followers to flood the streets with weapons, ignite fears in many Egyptians.  ‘The problem with these people is that they do not think –they only obey orders!’  is the type of argument put forward by those stirring up fear of Islamist militants.   While the Rebel campaigners plan and call for a peaceful non-violent protest – threats of violence against campaigners lead political commentators to speculate about the involvement of the Black Block and Ultras – both (here)- classified as militant oppositional groups that allegedly exist and will resort to and retaliate violence to ‘protect the revolution’ – if necessary. Such scenarios of violent clashes instill alarm in Egyptians – that the 30th of June will end in a bloody mess. Oppositional voices worry that in addition to a bloodbath, clashes may at worse result in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists holding an even firmer iron grip on Egyptians and dissidents in particular.

There is no doubt that fear propaganda is being pumped out through media outlets, in the hope of keeping many Egyptians from going out of their homes on June 30th. This will in all likelihood work like a dream. Ever since January 2011, millions of Egyptians have formed what is mockingly called ‘the sofa party’ – those who watch events on the TV, safely posited on their sofas in their own homes.  Some support ‘in spirit’, others are undecided, and yet others are mostly ruled by fear.

While, fear of bloodbath and clashes dominates many imaginations at the moment, some commentators are trying to calm things down. For instance, Editor in Chief of Daily News, Maher Hamoud argues that

‘there are not two “organised groups” in Egypt. There’s only one group: the Muslim Brotherhood or maybe the Islamists on the one hand, but currently there is no other hand. It is just the people. And the people are masses that are far from self-identifying as an organised group. So, a civil war looks to be an impossibility’ (…) He continues: ‘The term civil war is being used as a scare tactic by the Brotherhood and naively and irresponsibly parroted by others.’ (http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/06/13/editors-letter-is-egypt-on-the-verge-of-a-civil-war/

In the midst of all the fear tactics and apprehensions about June 30th – one thing seems to be for sure – not everybody who is pro-Rebel is pro-Revolution. Many Egyptians are simply called into action because they are overpowered by their own anti-Brotherhood sentiments. In the mean time, most Egyptians hold their breath – and hope for the best for June 30th

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