Egypt Rocked By Largest Protests In Its History: Armed Forces Issue Ultimatum
In Egypt, millions of protesters have taken to the streets in a call to oust the unpopular President Mohammed Morsi, who is celebrating his first year in office after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. At least 21 are dead — including 16 who were reported killed in Sunday’s protests — and 613 are injured from clashes with government authorities in the largely peaceful protest that nevertheless saw the Cairo headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood set afire and looted. Protest organizers have indicated that they will hold their ground until Morsi resigns.
On Monday, the Egyptian military presented the president an ultimatum, calling on the Islamist to reach an agreement with his opposition to “meet the people’s demands.” If he does not, the military says it will intervene to put forward and carry out a political road map. The ultimatum said that protesters expressed their opinion “in peaceful and civilized manner,” and that “it is necessary that the people get a reply … to their calls.” The ultimatum was presented as Morsi’s “last chance.”
“The Armed Forces repeat its call for the people’s demands to be met and give everyone 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of a historic moment for a nation that will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility,” it said.
This is Morsi’s second ultimatum in a week. Last Sunday, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi gave Morsi a week to reach an agreement with the opposition. This ultimatum ended with the opposition rejecting any calls for dialogue.
A nation in turmoil
One of the 21 dead was an American: Andrew Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md. He was stabbed by a protester while observing the demonstrations.
“He went to Egypt because he cared profoundly about the Middle East. He had studied in the region, loved the culture, and planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding,” a statement from Pochter’s family read.
Pochter was in Egypt on a semester abroad with the AMIDEAST Education Abroad Program, teaching English.
The U.S. State Department and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office have since issued travel advisories warning citizens against travel to or within Egypt. The United States has also evacuated all non-emergency federal employees from the country.
As reported by the interior ministry to Al-Jazeera, between 14 million and 17 million people have joined in the protests as of Sunday.
“It is absolutely fair to say that an unprecedented number of Egyptians went to the streets across the country,” said Al-Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Cairo.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, nearly 500,000 have camped in the largest single protest the nation has seen since Arab Spring in 2011. “The people want the fall of the regime!” and “Get out!” the people shouted, echoing the Arab Spring cries against Mubarak. Morsi is the first elected leader in the more than 5,000-year history of the nation.
For months prior to the protest, downtown Cairo was calm and quiet. Almost overnight, the scene was transformed by the sounds of horns, whistles, drums and chants; the smells of popcorn, grilled meat, cigarette smoke and oranges; and the overhead spectacle of fireworks, laser beams shot through the smoke and military helicopters patrolling overhead.
“This is a revolution!” one man shouted in the streets packed shoulder to shoulder, where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees.
The case against Morsi
The Morsi government is accused of doing too little to resolve Egypt’s economic crisis, of supporting constitutional amendments that gave him increased powers and allowed for more religious input into legislation, of supporting Hamas, of not criticizing the police, and of turning over too much of the government to the Islamists.
“If we changed someone in office who [was elected] according to constitutional legitimacy – well, there will be people opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later they will ask him to step down,” Morsi said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian. “There is no room for any talk against this constitutional legitimacy. There can be demonstrations and people expressing their opinions. But what’s critical in all this is the adoption and application of the constitution. This is the critical point.”
Morsi has blamed the protest’s escalation on the media, which he said has taken “small situations of violence and then magnified them as if the whole country is living in violence.” He also stated that the rioting has been coordinated by “the deep state and the remnants of the old regime.”
“They have money, and they got this money from corruption. They used this corrupt money to pull back the regime, and pull back the old regime into power. They pay this corrupt money to thugs, and then violence takes place,” Morsi told The Guardian.
Morsi is also accused of facilitating violence against women. Since the Muslim Brotherhood took power, the number of sexual harassment, abuse and rape cases skyrocketed. A Jan. 25 march on Tahrir Square targeted the unsafe conditions for women but ended with a large number of rapes and sexual assaults on the protesters. Some activists have alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood paid gangs to go out and “rape women and beat men protesting in Egypt.”
The United Nations has noted that 19 assaults happened on Jan. 25. A study by the U.N., the Cairo Demographic Center and Egypt’s Institute of National Planning found that more than 99 percent of participating Egyptian women have experienced some kind of sexual harassment, according to the Osun Defender. Lara Logan of CBS News and Dina Zakaria of the Egypt 25 news station are among the journalists who have been sexually assaulted covering Tahrir Square this year.
On Wednesday, Morsi made a speech before the Egyptian people, admitting he made some mistakes in his first year in office. He offered to form committees to address amending the constitution and to help facilitate national reconciliation. He also promised to assign assistants younger than 40 years old to all ministers and governors, and he vowed to tackle the issues of fuel shortages and power outages.
In the first official response to the speech, the main opposition called for “withdrawing confidence” from the president for his alleged “misadministration” of the country’s affairs. On Monday, five Egyptian ministers — water and sewage minister Abdel Qawy Khalifa, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, Communication and Information Technology Minister Atef Helmi, Minister of State for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hatem Bagato and Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Khaled Abdel-Aal — resigned in sympathy with the protesters.
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