MS Risk Blog

Egypt: Army Gives Politicians 48 hours to Reach Agreement

Posted on in Egypt title_rule

The Egyptian army told President Mohamed Morsi and his opponents that they have 48 hours to address the demands of Egyptians, who have been out in the millions in a scheduled protest since 30 June, the one year anniversary of the election of Morsi. Some estimates claim as many as 14 million civilians have taken to the streets.

Military chief Abdul Fattah al Sisi made the announcement of the ultimatum as the ministers of tourism, environment, communication and legal affairs handed in their letters of resignation together to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

The statement from the Army reads, “The Armed Forces repeat its call for the people’s demands to be met and give an ultimatum of 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of a historic moment for a nation that will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility. The Armed Forces calls on all sides that if the people’s demands are not answered, then the Armed forces, based on its national responsibility, and out of respect of the demands of the people, find it necessary to declare a road map for the future, and certain measures to be executed under supervision with the participation of the whole patriotic spectrum, including the youth.”

As Egyptian Army circles Cairo’s Tahrir Square with Apache Helicopters, protesters have welcomed the Army’s position, erupting into cheers at the announcement, and waving the Egyptian flag, as well as flags from various factions of the military, vowing to keep up the protests. One protester was seen taking the Muslim Brotherhood sign off the headquarters’ front wall.

Anti-government protestors believe that Morsi has done nothing for the country as a whole, rather tailoring his presidency and his cabinet to serve the ultra-conservative Muslim community, evidenced by providing several top political and judicial positions to supporters of his party, and pushing through a highly contested constitution. Opposition leaders have created a petition, called “Tamarod” (Rebel) demanding the removal of Morsi, and claim to have signatures from over 22 million people, nearly half of the voting population.

Pro-government counter-protesters believe that Egyptians haven’t given Morsi a chance, and are therefore circumventing the diplomatic process. Some believe the anti-government protesters are plotting the return of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which was ousted in February of 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood and its more militant allies have vowed to defend Morsi’s position. Conservative clerics have gone as far as calling non-supporters “kafirs” an Islamic term for individuals who know a truth but refuse to accept it, and thus condemning themselves.

The Army has called the 48 hour ultimatum for fear that further delay will increase the rifts in the already heavily divided nation. In Alexandria and Port Said, violent protest has left three people dead and over 70 injured. In Alexandria, two people were killed, including a 21 year old US citizen who was looking on at the protests, and was killed from a stab wound to the chest in a scuffle between pro and anti-Brotherhood parties. Top Egyptian clerics have issued warnings of civil war as a result of the last week’s violence.

On Sunday, the Cairo headquarters of Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was attacked by dozens of anti-Brotherhood protesters. The civilians fired shotguns and threw stones and petrol bombs. The compound in Cairo has been fortified, however Several provincial offices of the movement have been attacked in the days leading up to the scheduled day of protest. Police were not present during the attacks.

Also on Sunday, four people were killed in Assiut and Beni Suef, south of Cairo. The Egyptian Health Ministry says that nearly 200 people have been injured in clashes in several provincial towns. The Suez Canal has been placed under “maximum security”.

Before the military announcement, organisers of the protests have gave Morsi until 5pm on Tuesday to step down, calling on the police and military to support for “the popular will”.

Police and military troops are protecting key buildings around the country, and hospitals have been placed on high alert.

Morsi may pursue an exit strategy in exchange for salvaging the reputation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. If this is the case, it is likely that the group will begin to develop strategies coming elections. The Brotherhood in Egypt was abolished following a military coup by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956, however the organisation never disbanded; it stayed quietly intact while dong community service. Because the Brotherhood remained organised, the group was ready to reincarnate its political capabilities and place itself in a strong political position, particularly when compared to diverse and weak political parties that have emerged since 2011, with few viable potential leaders. Thus salvaging the reputation of the Muslim Brotherhood could be the best option for the party. However, the possibility remains that even if Morsi peacefully steps down, militant allies will resort to violent, reactive protest unless a conservative cleric addresses potential reactionaries.

Should Morsi actually step down, the military would more than likely take over as they did after Mubarak. This puts Egypt at risk of repeating the cycle of political leadership stemming from the military as it did in 1956.

A third potential option is that the Army simply provides a road map and uses their might to enforce it, by forcing opposing groups to work together and taking measures to ensure the success of their plan. Ultimately, it is not a coup, but would create a system whereby the political parties answer to the military.

It is still unknown how the Egyptian army intends to proceed should the parties fail to come to an agreement by Tuesday.