Egypt deeply polarised as Morsi marks first year

By Ahmed Maher
BBC News

image captionMorsi was elected after the rebellion which toppled Mubarak, but is on the cusp of another

Inheriting a corruption-riddled and economically battered country from a long-time president, Mohammed Morsi promised when he was inaugurated a year ago to give Egypt a face-lift in just 100 days.

One year on, he faces widespread discontent as much of the country is seething with anger and frustration over the perceived failure of the president to tackle any of the country's pressing economic and social woes.

And from the beginning of his four-year term in office, Mr Morsi has fallen out with key institutions, chiefly the judiciary, police, media and more recently artists.

With the circle tightening around him, the president gave a marathon televised speech in a bid to upstage massive demonstrations planned by the opposition on 30 June.

"From day one, I have been facing conspiracies one after another to topple me as Egypt's first freely and democratically elected president," Mr Morsi told an invited audience of senior officials and supporters at Cairo International Conference Centre.

"How can the best of leaders make major achievements in such a poisonous atmosphere? In just one year, there have been up to 4,900 strikes and 22 calls for a million protest. The ex-associates of the ousted regime are plotting for the collapse of the state," added the country's first Islamist president.

Rival movements

The split between the president's supporters and his opponents is deeper than ever.

The opposition, which includes leftists, liberals and secularists, is united against the Islamists but lacks a unifying vision.

They are billing 30 June as President Morsi's last day in office, hoping for a repeat of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and planning massive demonstrations nationwide with symbolic football red cards to send him off.

"This revolution is not over yet," Mohamed ElBaradei, a former top UN diplomat and one of the best known faces of the opposition, told the leading Arab daily Al-Hayat.

The opposition accuses the president and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, of trying to Islamise the state and of giving the Islamists a monopoly over key public institutions.

Disgruntled young activists have embarrassed the president by launching, in April, a grass-roots campaign to call for early elections.

The campaign is called Tamarod, or "Rebel", and backed by many leading opposition parties and public figures including Mr ElBaradei.

Organisers claim to have collected 15 million signatures on petitions that hold signs reading "Leave".

"It is a vote of no confidence of the Muslim Brotherhood president," Tamarod spokesman Mahmoud Badr told BBC Arabic television in a recent interview.

"We will present the signed and well-documented petitions to the [Supreme] Constitutional Court to request that it withdraw confidence form Morsi and appoint an interim president to lead until new elections are held."

Threatened showdown

In return, hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied for Mr Morsi in Cairo last week, symbolising Egypt's increasing polarisation.

Chanting pro-Sharia (Islamic law) slogans, the protesters vowed to defend the elected president to the end.

"They threaten us with protests on 30 June, and today we promise that they will be crushed on that day," Tarek Zomor, a leader in the ex-militant Gamaa al-Islamiya group and a key Morsi ally, said at a news conference earlier in the week.

In response to Tamarod, a pro-Morsi counter-campaign known as Tagarod, or "Impartiality" has been mobilising its own supporters.

They dismissed the anti-Morsi campaign as unconstitutional as the president does have electoral legitimacy.

Many locals fear that the protests on Sunday will turn into bloody showdown between both camps.

And they fear what happened in the northern city of Mansoura on Wednesday - when two people were killed and dozens injured in clashes between foes and supporters of President Morsi - is a prelude for a bloody confrontation.

Fearing the worst, the Egyptian army has deployed reinforcements of troops and armoured vehicles to strategic locations across the country, chiefly the main presidential palace in Cairo.

Defence Minister Gen Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has warned that the army could intervene to prevent the country from sliding into internal strife.

Media warfare

The depth of the rift in the country is reflected by state of the country's media.

image captionMorsi promised to give Egypt a facelift, but opponents say he has failed to deliver and are calling for him to step down

Over the past 12 months, both camps have waged a tug-of-war through the TV, radio and the press. ‫

The media is freer in post-revolution Egypt than it was under Mubarak. It is sensational nevertheless.

A myriad of private channels and newspapers have surfaced in post-revolution Egypt.

The president is almost daily ridiculed and vilified by satirists, talk show hosts and columnists.

"What a dumb president! If Morsi had been a sensible person, he would have stepped down at the request for millions of Egyptians who discredited him and would push him out of office on 30 June," wrote famed author Alaa Al-Aswani in his Al-Masry Al-Youm column.

"The president is not listening because he belongs to the self-centred Muslim Brotherhood, which is willing to kill all Egyptians and sabotage the homeland to stay in power at any price."

The other camp fires back in rival outlets that are predominantly Islamist.

"Those who back the 30 June coup are traitors and puppets in the hands of the Americans. They are part of the American-Zionist project to wreak havoc across Egypt," wrote Islamic thinker Abdullah Hilal in the Freedom and Justice newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is named after the group's political arm.

"I urge all Egyptians not to heed their message of evil."

The state media is widely seen as compliant and pliable towards whoever is in power irrespective of their political affiliations.

The headlines of state-run newspapers are reminiscent of Mubarak's era.

"The president instructs the governors to resolve the people's complaints," read the main headline of Al-Ahram newspaper on 26 June.

Editors and broadcasters in state media have resigned in recent months in protest against interference by government ministers in editorial content.

Last December, famed news presenter Bothina Kamel faced disciplinary action after saying on air in the middle of the main news bulletin "please stay tuned for the Muslim Brotherhood bulletin".

And journalists and popular TV hosts like satirist Bassem Youssef have been subjected to criminal investigations over the past five months for insulting the president.

Growing anger

As political rivals lock horns over the "Brotherhoodisation" and "secularisation" of the nation, opinion polls point out to the mounting public discontent.

A new poll by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) indicated a sharp decline in the president's approval ratings to 32% compared with 78% at the end of the first 100 days of his tenure.

Public anger is soaring over expanding power cuts, water cut-offs in some districts and falling living standards.

Tempers have further flared a few days before the 30 June rallies. Fearing prolonged unrest and a showdown in the streets between Mr Morsi's supporters and opponents, many Egyptians have stocked up on basic food supplies and fuel.

Long-lasting staples including canned goods, grains and frozen vegetables are much sought after.

Fuel is in short supply as well. So is patience. Angry drivers often fight with one another outside petrol stations as they have to spend much of the day in long lines under the searing summer heat.

For the millions of poor, it is the stagnant economy - caught in collapsed sources of income like tourism, rising food prices and a growing population dependent on subsidised bread - that matters.

Foreign currency reserves are half of what they were under Mubarak and the value of the Egyptian pound has fallen by 10% against the US dollar since last year.

Egypt has also seen a dramatic surge in crime with little security on the streets.

Police have abandoned many of their duties, and public services, already in bad shape under Mubarak, have further declined.

Almost daily strikes by angry civil servants and factory workers demanding better conditions have also become a fact of life.

The newly appointed Islamist culture minister (a member of the hardline al-Tawheed el-Arabi party) has not entered his office in more than two weeks because of one of these strikes.

And last week, tourism workers sealed off the gates of the government office in the temple city of Luxor after the president named one from the Gamaa al-Islamiya group, whose gunmen killed dozens of tourists in 1997, as governor.

After the public outcry in the city, a hub for tourism, the governor, Adel el-Khaiat, resigned.

The president says he has been left with no options but to rely on Muslim Brotherhood members and Islamist allies after the opposition turned down his national reconciliation endeavours.

The opposition, in turn, says Mr Morsi's calls for dialogue are never sincere and insist on early elections.

"This is absurd," says senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mostafa el-Gheinemy.

"Every two or three months, they will want to change the president. Those who say the president will be toppled on 30 June live in an illusion."