Egypt – as it was Tweeted to you on 3 July 2013

The Egyptian armed forces, led by Minister for Defence and Chief of Staff General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, have effectively annulled President Mohamad Morsi’s government after the 48-hour deadline given to it by the military to forge a power-sharing agreement with rival parties expired on the evening of 3 June. In making the announcement alongside de facto Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, Salafist leader Galal Morra, Coptic Pope Tawadros II and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, Sisi announced the dissolution of the parliament, the establishment of a technocratic interim government led by the head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court, Judge Adly Moahmoud Mansour (who assumes the role of Interim President), the suspension of the December 2012 constitution and plans to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported that Morsi was informed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that he had been removed from the presidency at 5.00pm that evening. According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Twitter page, Morsi was later arrested and detained at the Republic Guard Clubhouse compound in Cairo, while at least 38 members of his presidential team were arrested and the names of other government officials placed on a flight ban list to prevent them leaving the country.

On 1 July, the SCAF issued a 48-hour “last chance” ultimatum to the Brotherhood-led ruling coalition, demanding that it seek a political accommodation with opposition parties failing which the armed forces would proceed to unilaterally “impose a road map for the future”. On the afternoon of 3 July, Sisi and other SCAF leaders convoked an “emergency meeting” with civilian leaders to draw-up a “road map” for a post-Morsi government. Among the political participants invited to the meeting were ElBaradei (representing the secular June 30 Front and National Salvation Front), leaders of the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement that has led the recent mass demonstrations in Cairo, and representatives of the ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nour Party. The Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) rejected an invitation to participate in the dialogue.

While the Morsi camp had openly resisted what it sees as the military’s illegitimate attempt to assert its authority in Egyptian politics, it had responded cautiously albeit defiantly to the SCAF’s 1 July ultimatum and the 3 July road map meeting. Addressing the country on the eve of the 3 July deadline, Morsi emphasized his “constitutional legitimacy and reject(ed) any attempt to overstep it”, called on the “armed forces to withdraw their warning” and “reject(ed) any dictates, domestic or foreign”. In response to this direct challenge by the Morsi administration, the SCAF published a statement on its Facebook page entitled “Final Hours”, committing the military to “sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against every terrorist, extremist or ignorant person” – the starkest indication of its previously oblique opposition to the Brotherhood-led government.

Perceiving the growing precariousness of the Morsi government’s position, Tarek El-Zomor, the leader of the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (an influential member of the Brotherhood-led National Alliance to Support Legitimacy coalition), appeared to urge Morsi to call a referendum on early presidential elections “to preserve the constitutional transition of power” (from the SCAF administration to the present elected Morsi government). Following the “road map” meeting, Morsi released a press statement, published on the Egyptian Presidency’s Facebook page, which purported to “renew (the Presidency’s) adherence to the roadmap to which all national forces were invited for the sake of comprehensive national reconciliation”. However, he maintained a defiant posture in respect to the mounting calls for his resignation and/or immediate elections.

As the 5.30pm (local Cairo time) deadline passed, the military moved to secure strategic assets such as the headquarters of Egypt’s central television network and Cairo’s international airport. According to the Brotherhood’s website, the Islamist television channels Masr 25, Al-Nas and Al-Hafez were “forced shut”, while the FJP’s leader (Saad El-Katani) and deputy (Rashad Bayoumi) were both arrested. Brotherhood-linked social media feeds accused the military and police of fatally shooting pro-Morsi protesters in Assyut and Matruh, while the FJP’s Twitter page initially reported that security forces had fired into a crowd performing night prayers in Rabaa El Adaweiya – to the SCAF’s denial, expressed in a statement on its Facebook page dismissing the reports as “entirely false, mere lies and fabrications” (the Brotherhood’s Media Spokesman, Gehad El-Haddad, later clarified that the assailants had been plain-clothed and that it had been “impossible to tell who (was) attacking”).

As of 4 July, there are few indications that the Brotherhood are regrouping to challenge the SCAF-shaped status quo. It has been suggested that the Brotherhood and its National Alliance allies intend to adopt an “edge of the abyss” stance which would entail a drawn-out  ideological war of attrition that could eventually erode the SCAF’s popular standing and force it into a compromise with the Brotherhood:

The “edge of the abyss” scenario depends in essence on escalating tensions in the public sphere so that explosion seems imminent. The first objective is exhibiting to public opinion that there is a balance of powers between all sides, in order to lower the ceiling of expectations for the opposition and gain some pressure points for the loyal side.

The second objective is to throw the military’s position into disarray and send a message that Mursi cannot be removed by force like Mubarak. The army will be forced to pressure the opposition to accept a solution based on a government reshuffle or resignation and early elections, following Ramadan, which means in 6 to 8 weeks. In addition, Mursi will commit to create a committee to amend the constitutional articles under contention, which was one of the main opposition demands before the recent escalation calling for early presidential elections.

The third objective is to put opponents in a moral dilemma by holding demonstrations away from the major rallies. If they get attacked, the loyalists will look like they were the victims of the opposition, which will then seem unqualified for transition. This will gain the Islamists more time in a long-winded battle until the start of Ramadan on July 10. They believe this will reduce the sharpness of the situation.

Indeed, this was made all the more plausible by an ominously-worded Facebook post by Eassam El-Haddad, Morsi’s National Security Adviser: “In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?”. An FJP-linked remark urging pro-Morsi “free revolutionaries” to prepare for “martyrdom” has also caused some disquiet. There is additionally the risk of conflict imploding within the Islamist camp: the FJP have reportedly denounced the one-time Brotherhood ally Al-Nour party as “traitors” for participating in the “road map” meeting, and there have been suggestions that some of the most recent urban violence could in fact be attributable to retaliatory attacks by fanatical supporters.

Meanwhile, the SCAF has attempted to project itself as a non-partisan arbiter and has been keen to refute perceptions of its ultimatum as amounting to a coup d’etat – despite the Morsi administration’s insistence that it be treated as such. In its “Statement of the General Command of the Armed Forces“, the military stressed that “the armed forces will not be a party in politics or government”  and ruled out any “role in the authentic democratic thought emanating from the will of the people”.

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