Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s support in his own government began crumbling on Monday. Ten independent members of the Egyptian upper house or senate (Majlis al-Shura) resigned, ahead of 6 cabinet members in the Morsi government (including the minister of foreign affairs, who announced his resignation on Monday).
The resignations come in the wake of Sunday’s demonstrations by millions, the biggest rallies in Egyptian history, demanding that Morsi step down.
The millions of protesting youth had given Morsi until Tuesday to resign or announce early elections, as a kind of referendum on how he is running the country. The opposition cites his high-handedness, favoritism toward the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, crackdown on freedom of speech, and poor economy as reasons for which Morsi should resign only a year into his four-year term.
Then on Monday Morsi received another and different ultimatum, from Secretary of Defense, Brig. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The memorandum gave Morsi 48 hours to make up with the opposition.
At the same time, Gen. Sami Anan, former Army Chief of Staff, resigned as presidential adviser. He had been made a special counselor to President Morsi when Morsi subordinated the army to civilian government in August 2012.
The extraordinary military announcement raised the specter of a military coup. But the armed forces were careful to say that it was no such thing, simply a response to “the pulse of the Egyptian street, i.e. the army was insisting that the president not plunge the country into civil war, given the obvious strength of the opposition.
The crowds at Tahrir Square reportedly went wild with joy on hearing that the military was taking their side against Morsi.
But the revolutionary youth groups, such as April 6, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Current, and Strong Egypt, warned the military to stay out of civil politics. The youth groups spent the months from February 2011 through August of 2012 demonstrating and demanding that the military go back to the barracks. Their insistence that Morsi call early presidential elections was not intended as an invitation to the army to come back into politics.
Then at 2 am Tuesday, President Morsi came on t.v. and rejected the military communique, saying that the president had not been consulted before it was issued and implying that it was an officers’ rebellion against the authority of the elected president.
Morsi also quoted a conversation he had Monday with President Obama, saying the president assured him that he was committed to the elected, legitimate government (i.e. Morsi). But Obama appears instead to have said that he is committed to the democratic process in Egypt but not siding with any particular party or group. That is, Morsi misrepresented Obama’s call as support for himself. In defying the military ultimatum, the Muslim Brotherhood appears convinced that the US would not permit the officers to make a coup, and that the officers would not dare do so without a US green light. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called Brig. Gen. al-Sisi on Monday, but we do not know the substance of the call.
Morsi’s misrepresentation of Obama will inflame anti-American opinion further in Egypt, where the opposition generally believes that the US is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt for its own nefarious reasons. This impression has been fanned by statements of US ambassador Anne Patterson discouraging the youth from holding the June 30 protest and supporting the elected president. In fact, the US as a status quo power typically deals with the elected government in power. It is true that the Bush administration had treated the Muslim Brotherhood as taboo, but it is not clear that that kind of ostrich policy was a good thing.
Morsi said he would stick to his own plan for reconciliation. Since so far everything he has done has alienated the youth movements further, this stubbornness is not a good sign for Egypt.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria and elsewhere announced a determination to go to the streets en masse to support Morsi and defeat the opposition’s attempt to delegitimate him by street action.
Over the whole scene looms the specter of Algeria 1992, when the military overturned the victory at the polls of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and plunged the country into over a decade of civil war in which the Muslim religious forces were radicalized and 150,000 or more died.