Egypt is steeling itself in the run-up to nationwide protests against beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi on the first anniversary of his inauguration.
Sunday’s demonstrations, which organisers claim will “make or break” the Muslim Brotherhood president, are spearheaded by a grassroots campaign Tamarod, meaning “rebel”. It aims to secure enough signatures to a vote-of-no-confidence petition to outweigh the 13 million votes that brought Morsi into power.
Tamarod say they have already collected at least 18 million, and will present them to Morsi.
As tensions rise, rumours abound that the army may intervene, just one year after handing power to a civilian chief. Defense Minster Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi cryptically said Sunday that the military “stayed out of political matters” but has a duty to “prevent Egypt slipping into a dark tunnel.”
Meanwhile the police, historically hostile to the Brotherhood, vowed to protect state institutions but not the group’s headquarters, which have recently been targeted in firebomb attacks.
Tamarod spokesperson Eman El-Haghy tells the New Statesman confidently that they will call on the head of the Constituent Assembly to be interim president. “The president has dragged our country backwards… he has not fulfilled the revolution’s goals.”
Tamarod say political forces will choose a transitional president and technocratic government to draft a constitution before elections: a tough call for an opposition that critics say hasn’t united around anything except dislike of the Brotherhood.
Nevertheless the mounting anger against Morsi is significant.
“I don’t think it gets more serious than this,” says Hisham Hellyer, Cairo-based non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.
“He doesn’t have even have a monopoly on the Islamist trend, the different [ultraconservative] Salafi parties are not deserting him but they are getting there. The more left-leaning Islamist parties are joining protests.”
Certainly the non-Islamist faction who backed Morsi during elections – largely to block his rival, Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq – are now organising demonstrations. The National Salvation Front, Egypt’s largest opposition bloc, has meanwhile rejected any dialogue.
Protesters are demanding “bread, freedom and social justice,” the same grievances they voiced during the revolution.
Egypt suffers from a flailing economy; bread, water and fuel crises; and a brutal police force which hasn’t been held to account. Many say the recently-ratified Constitution was hastily drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
Basic rights continue to be violated.
According to Human Rights Watch, bloggers and journalists are increasingly being prosecuted for “insulting” officials. State torture remains endemic; defamation and blasphemy prosecutions are increasing.
“The economy is not doing well,” says Ahmed Galal, Director of Cairo-based Economic Research Forum. “The budget deficit is growing, and there is sluggish economic growth at a time of growing unemployment.”
Continued unrest and no political consensus means foreign investment has dried up, Galal adds. “Most of Egypt’s economic problems would be resolved if a political settlement is reached.” Something Morsi has yet to do.
Hellyer says the president also picked fights with institutions like the interior ministry and judiciary “without correct political support.”
One embarrassing example was when the High Constitutional Court rejected the electoral law last month, meaning Egypt won’t have a parliament until 2014, even though the president had already called elections.
Morsi himself faces direct judicial challenges: Shafiq is appealing the results of last year’s presidential poll.
Even the Brotherhood admits expectations have not been met.
“The first year has been much more troublesome than we had expected,” says Gehad El-Haddad, an advisor to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, adding that the government’s performance has not been “optimum”.
State institutions, El-Haddad says, are the problem. “They are unprofessional and corrupt and actually challenge the president’s initiatives.”
El-Haddad also maintains that the media distort Morsi’s record. Despite the hype, he believes there isn’t widespread demand for Morsi’s resignation.
Hellyer says Sunday’s protests, if successful, are dangerous. “The propensity for violence would increase. It’s very bad for the story for Egyptian democracy, as it says that government can be thrown out after a year.”
“The only way Morsi leaves is by the military forcing him out, which involves violence and social disorder.” Clashes have already broken out in several governorates in the lead up.
Activists maintain they will keep their protests peaceful with marches “with people holding whistles and red cards to signify that it is game over,” El-Haghy explains. There will also be protests outside Egyptian embassies in cities around the world – including New York and London.
“We told the world that 30 June, the day we gave him our vote, will be the day we withdraw our confidence.”
Whether Morsi will exit the pitch early remains to be seen.