Islamists Rally in Support of Embattled Egyptian President

Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo Friday to show their support for the beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi.

The rally took place in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City outside Raba’a al A’adeweya Mosque, where the crowds gathered for Friday prayer amid growing voices in the opposition calling for Morsi to step down and for early elections. The rally, organized by the hardline group Gama'a Islamiya, was meant to denounce what many see as impending violence as Egypt plunges deeper into political and economic uncertainty. Chants in support of Morsi thundered throughout the square, with many calling for the implementation of full Islamic law and the establishment of an Islamic government. The rally was also meant to be an invigoration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood president, as an increasing number of Egyptians grow frustrated at what they see as a failure follow through with the January 25th Revolution’s goals.

Opposition groups have declared June 30th, the anniversary of Morsi’s election, as a day of protest, and have called on all Egyptians to return to Cairo’s infamous Tahrir Square in solidarity against the government. While there have been no direct appeals for violence on the 30th, many worry that clashes will break out between the secular opposition and supporters of the Islamist ruling government. 

The ‘Tamarod’ (Rebel) campaign, which claims to have 15 million signatures, is demanding the resignation of President Morsi and calls for early elections. Leaders of the movement argue he has lost legitimacy as president, as the country’s economic situation continues to deteriorate alongside the crippling Egyptian pound. Rolling power blackouts frustrate many, and lines of trucks and vans clog the highways as they wait for diesel. 

Ahmed Abdel Satar, a member of the conservative Al Watan party, suggested that while the ‘Rebel’ campaign had many supporters, it didn’t capture the general sentiment of the Egyptian public. “In Egypt, we are almost 90 million. They say they have 15 million [signatures]. That means there are more than 75 million against the ‘Rebel’ campaign.” The tens of thousands packing the square serve as a stark reminder that while Morsi faces a unifying opposition, he still commands the following of many Egyptians. The busloads shuttled in from neighboring villages shows the Brotherhood’s superb organizational abilities.

In the last week, Morsi has been forced to endure yet another political headache following his recent gubernatorial appointments. In a move that angered many, Morsi tapped Adel al-Khayat as the chief of Egypt’s most important tourist city. Al-Khayat’s party, Gama’a Islamiya, is considered to be a terrorist organization for the violence it waged against the Egyptian government in the 1990’s. The group renounced violence in 2006 became political party following the January 25th Revolution. Workers in Luxor, whose incomes depend on tourism, blocked roads in protest at the appointment. During a press conference on June 20th, Al-Khayat dismissed calls for his resignation. 

“I am appointed by an elected government, by a government of an elected president,” he said. 

The rally they led today was under the auspices of ‘No to Violence’ and showed the power of the Islamist parties to mobilize. Members from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al Watan, and Gama’a Islamiya all were present. This pacifist approach is meant to temper the uncertainty in the streets as June 30th approaches.

The themes of democracy and legitimacy was present in today’s Islamist-led demonstration. Ahmed Mohsen, a 33 year-old graphic designer and member of the conservative Salafi party, attended in order to show his support for the president. “On June 30th [2011] he was elected. That is democracy. All parties wanted democracy, and Dr. Morsi was the winner.” One protestor held a sign that read “Legitimacy must be honored,” an idea echoed by Mohsen and many of those in attendance. 

“When we elected President Morsi, we did so for four years, not two. That is not how democracy works,” said Mohamed Said, a 25 year-old English teacher and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

On a day meant to show support for the president, small clashes also broke out at the mosque attended by Morsi in the suburb of New Cairo as he attended  Friday prayer. Instead of these rallies and petitions showing a sense of solidarity, they only serve to highlight the deep divide plaguing Egyptian politics.