The ultimate judge of what should happen may be Egypt’s revered military, the country’s last nationalist institution and respected arbiter. In a speech Sunday, the defense minister and the supreme commander of the armed forces, Abdel-Fattah el Sissi, said the military would interfere if there were “uncontrollable conflict,” the strongest statement by the military during Morsi’s presidency and one that some think portends a possible military intervention.
“There is a state of division in the society, and the continuation of it is a danger to the Egyptian state,” Sissi said. The military has a “patriotic and moral responsibility” to defend Egyptians from violence, he said.
In the impoverished Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, residents debated Monday whose side the military would take. Supporters of Morsi interpreted Sissi’s remarks to mean that it would defend the government; opponents said the comments were a warning that the military would intervene because Morsi couldn’t handle governing.
Faheem Abdel Hameed, 37, a mechanic, suggested that the size of the crowds this week would sway the military. “If big numbers take to the streets, the military will make Morsi go home,” he said.
A Morsi supporter, Wafer Ali, 32, interrupted Hameed and offered his own understanding of Sissi’s comments.
“If the people care about this country, they would stand with Morsi and express their concerns and opinion peacefully,” Ali said. “What Sissi means is that he is worried about the country and he will protect the legitimacy.”
Morsi’s fate would be clearer if the opposition could offer a better alternative. But it, too, is divided and unorganized. The result is a nation that’s largely fed up, saying the last year has taught it Morsi is incapable of leading the country and tackling its seemingly intractable corruption, economic and political problems.
In a blog for the U.S. publication Foreign Policy, Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who’s now the leader of the National Salvation Front – the biggest conglomerate of Morsi opponents – spelled out the nation’s well-known problems but fell short of outlining specific solutions.
“We in the opposition have been urging President Mohammed Morsi and company for months that Egypt needs a government that is competent and impartial, at least through the upcoming parliamentary election. We need a broad-based committee to amend the Egyptian Constitution, which pretty much everyone agrees falls short of ensuring a proper balance of power and guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms. And we need a political partnership between the other established parties,” ElBaradei wrote.
Morsi has scrambled to shore up support. He offered billions in aid to the restive Sinai and pay raises for government workers, promised to improve the electricity and water shortages, and even cut ties with Syria. The Health Ministry has offered free government care, and Morsi stepped up the rhetoric with Ethiopia over its proposal to build a dam, which might affect Egypt’s water supplies. All the while, the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood has mobilized thousands to the streets.
In the end, if there’s a connective thread between both sides, it’s their desperate plea for stability. It seems that if Morsi could offer a modicum of hope, the protests could be staved off.
“If Morsi seriously does something I won’t participate in the protest. I just want stability. I am not against Morsi as a person, I am against his failed policy. He had promised a lot and did nothing,” said Mohammed Ezz, 44, a seed shop owner from Imbaba.