Egypt protests a 'strong aftershock' of 2011 revolution
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The day after millions of Egyptians took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Mohammed Morsi, FRANCE 24 speaks to Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries.
A year after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took office, tensions in the country are at boiling point. On Sunday, millions took to the streets to demand Morsi’s resignation. At least 16 people were killed and around 600 injured.
On Monday, Egypt’s opposition “Tamarod” [which means “rebellion” in Arabic and is the grassroots campaign that called for Sunday’s protests] called for Morsi to step down by 5pm on Tuesday (4pm Paris time), pledging that its supporters would stay on the streets until its demands were met.
FRANCE 24 spoke to Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Counties, for a deeper insight into the situation in Egypt.
FRANCE 24: Can Mohamed Morsi’s position be compared to that of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to stand down after huge public demonstrations in 2011?
Antoine Basbous: The numbers taking to the streets on Sunday were much bigger than after the death of president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, and of the millions who turned out to mourn the death of universally-loved singer Oum Kalthoum in 1975.
The protests that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 were like a tsunami in comparison, and what happened on Sunday was a strong aftershock of that revolution that was felt in towns and cities across the country.
Morsi’s supporters gathered in only one place, so the balance is clearly in favour of the opposition. Meanwhile, the Tamarod movement claims it has collected 22 million signatures calling for Morsi to step down, which would be hugely significant in a country of 85 million.
FR24: In times of chaos in Egypt, all eyes turn towards the army. What role is this powerful institution likely to play?
The head of Egypt's armed forces gave politicians 48 hours on Monday to answer demands made by the Egyptian people or the military would offer its own "road map for the future".
In a statement read on state television, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called mass protests on Sunday, which called for Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to resign, an "unprecedented" expression of the popular will.
"The people's demands must be met," he said.
A spokesman announced that the army was giving political forces in the country 48 hours to resolve the crisis, failing which it would impose its own "roadmap for the future".
AB: The Egyptian army is an important mediator and it will certainly have its say in whatever happens. But I don’t think it will be tempted to take power for itself because it prefers to influence politics from a distance. It is fully aware just how hard a job governing Egypt is is.
And the army will have no intention of repeating its experience of taking the reins of power after the fall of Mubarak in 2011, and experience that severely tarnished its reputation.
Egypt is in an impossible situation. It is experiencing a profound crisis on so many levels. The country is lacking in resources and its infrastructure is in bad shape. Whoever takes power in Egypt is going to have an tough time, and the army has no intention of getting its fingers burned.
FR24: Is Egypt governable? Is it not a bit too early to call for Morsi to step down, after just a year in power?
AB: For the moment, Morsi has refused to make any concessions. At the same time, it’s important to remember that it isn’t Morsi who is actually governing the country. He is merely that the public face of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Egyptians have long been waiting for reforms and improvements that have failed to materialise. The only thing that’s changed visibly is that the MB has been imposing its Islamism on the state. People feel that the MB stole their revolution with the promise that “Islam is the solution”.
Meanwhile, daily life for ordinary Egyptians has become much more difficult. There are shortages of fuel, electricity, gas, water and bread. The socio-economic situation is catastrophic. The people have had enough and they are laying the blame squarely on the MB and Morsi.
Finding common ground between those the MB's supporters and the opposition is a virtually impossible task and there is a very real risk of escalating civil strife. At the moment, Egypt is deadlocked.