Mehmet Ali writes from Cairo: The Egyptian capital is a boiling pot. There are thousands of protesters on the streets, some camped in Tahrir Square, and clashes between Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters and the opposition break out regularly. MB followers have torn down opposition tents outside the Presidential Palace and forced many to flee. The palace was surrounded on Tuesday night and President Morsi had to leave under the protection of a police convoy.
On Wednesday the mood and situation changed. The police are now trying to keep the two sides apart. Meanwhile a new leader of the opposition has emerged. He is Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. When he announced his ambition to become President last year, he was scorned. Things have changed. He now heads the Salvation Front that has emerged as the main opposition group. The defeated candidate in the presidential election is also a member. Some of the fighting appears to be provoked by the Ultras, extreme football fans.
El Baradei has demanded that the decree granting Morsi supreme power be rescinded and the referendum on 15 December on the new constitution postponed. It was a smart move to go for a snap vote. This allows the opposition next to no time to organise a no campaign. So will it take place? The judges are on strike complaining that they are being harassed. They say they will not supervise the referendum. Under the present constitution they need to do this otherwise the vote will be invalid. Will that bother the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafists? Not a bit. They state that the judges were appointed under Mubarak and are therefore unfit to serve.
So let’s assume that Egypt goes to the polls on December 15. What will the opposition do? It consists of secularists, liberals, socialists, Christians and other minorities. Storm the polling booths so that the vote cannot go ahead? Frankly it would not matter if they did. The MB will declare victory and announce the beginning of a new era. Egypt will return to its Islamic roots and the long period of secular rule, beginning with the overthrow of King Farouk, will be over. Nasser held out the prospect of a glorious future with Egypt dominating the Arab world. Socialism was all the rage as it was the antithesis of American capitalism. There was even a spell when Cairo was Moscow’s best friend in the region. The Soviets were thrown out and the Americans came in. That era ended with the overthrow of Mubarak. We have now entered a new period when religious thought will be important. The MB has to devise a new way of making Egypt great again.
The above is a feasible scenario. However, there is a new variable in the equation of protest and power. Mohamed El Baradei. He is aiming to force Morsi to backtrack and forfeit his legitimacy. He sees himself as the legitimate voice of the people who oppose an Islamic republic.
So what will the opposition do? Since the majority of the population favour an Islamic republic, it would appear that the only way to prevent this happening is to provoke the breakdown of law and order. Fortunately no weapons have been used yet in the conflict – which is now an irreconcilable conflict – between the MB and Salafists on one side and those who do not favour an Islamic republic. A few hand-grenades have been thrown but that is all.
As before in Egyptian history, the military hold the key. If social chaos reigns, will a general on a white horse emerge? That would be the solution the country has adopted over the last half century.