“I wonder if the families of the victims were checking their timelines,” journalist Farah Saafan posted on Twitter after President Mohamed Morsy tweeted late-night condolences to those who lost their lives in Suez on 25 January in clashes with the police.
To Morsy’s opponents, the tweets were one of several gaffes of the ruling regime in face of the brewing violence that erupted with the commemoration of 25 January, the mounting deaths, and the looming political deadlock.
More than 50 people have died in clashes in Port Said, Suez, Cairo and Ismailia since Friday. In response, Morsy announced a state of emergency in the three cities. Meanwhile, he called the opposition for a national dialogue to resolve divisions, a call that was rejected by major groups.
The current state of raving violence is largely viewed as a general and elusive anger toward the state by and large, alongside its institutions, and most notably the police — the same police who drove and fought millions of protesters, ending with the toppling of the regime of Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
The regime response, many say, albeit geared toward deploying security measures as opposed to finding political solutions has not so far been able to master oppressive measures to its benefits.
In his televised speech Sunday, Morsy denounced violence and reiterated the right for the police to defend state institutions. He said scenes of violence, road blocking and armed assault “have nothing to do with the revolution,” calling these acts of the “counter-revolution.”
“Morsy is dealing with the crisis a la Mubarak, from a very narrow perspective, a security perspective, when, at the end of the day it is political,” says Nael Shama, a political researcher and commentator.
But Amr Hesham Rabie, an expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says he sees the tough security measures as the only way to deal with the current situation.
“What else can you do with crowds trying to break into prisons? Will you negotiate with them?” he asks, explaining that imposing a curfew and announcing a state of emergency may be a good “temporary” solution until things calm down.
But Shama argues that although Morsy, unlike Mubarak, is more aware of the pulse of the street, he seems like he has been caught off-guard. This is surprising, given that the prospect of more contentious politics unfolded again in November, when people took to the streets to protest a constitutional declaration Morsy issued to tighten his power grip and save the draft constitution, conceived by a mostly Islamist assembly.
“Protesters are diversifying their tactics after Morsy’s constitutional declaration last November and the events that followed. We have seen them march to the presidential palace, attack governmental institutions and Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, and cut the roads — this escalation is taking Morsy by surprise,” says Shama.
Meanwhile, the resort to security has also reflected an institutional failure.
Shama speaks of the Interior Ministry’s “unjustified escalation” and how it indicates an internal organizational and hierarchal problem.
On Sunday, Central Security Forces officers kicked out Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim from a funeral of police officers who were killed in Port Said clashes the day before. Some media have also reported that Central Security Forces in the Suez zone have been pleading for more arms to face the protesters.
“This shows there are major problems with the leadership inside the Interior Ministry and the officers blame the minister for their colleagues’ deaths,” Shama says.
He suspects that another 28 January looms, and that security forces might not withstand the ongoing back and forth and withdraw.
The protesters’ zeal is not helping. In his Sunday speech, Morsy also announced a state of emergency in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia for 30 days, along with the imposition of a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am in an attempt to contain the violence in the cities.
On the ground, in Port Said, people welcomed the curfew by organizing mass protests Monday at 9 pm where they chanted “the curfew is screwed, sons of bitches.” In Ismailia, in a creative response, a curfew football tournament kicked off Monday, at 9 pm.
In an index of police failure, Morsy resorted to the military to restore order, particularly in the tumultuous Suez Canal zone.
The military was deployed in Suez and Port Said Friday and Saturday, respectively, as clashes between protesters and security forces raged in both cities.
On Monday, the Shura Council proposed a law that would grant the Armed Forces judicial powers to arrest civilians, saying the procedure would assist police in maintaining security.
While some argue the escalation of clashes and perpetuation of chaos could lead to a military coup, others see the current cooperation of the military as a sign of agreement with the presidency.
Shama says that the army and Morsy, or the Muslim Brotherhood at large, are on the same page since he assumed power, apparent in the Constitution, which gave them all their necessary privileges.
“Their intervention is calculated … they want to remain a powerful institution in the shadows, but with a say on national security,” he says, “They also don’t want to return to the streets, so they want the crisis solved as soon as possible.”
However, the military intervention in the current deadlock, although negotiated with Morsy, is thought to weaken his legitimacy.
Shama explains that, should Morsy stay in power and survive this deadlock, he “will return to his position as a lame duck, weakening his position and consolidating his alliance with the army.”
Ashraf El Sherif, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, agrees, saying that resorting to the Armed Forces’ protection means the civilian elites aren’t capable of getting through the impasse.
But for Rabie, the army’s intervention does not showcase the regime’s failure because, so far, it has been a security intervention rather than a political one, which he says would not work in the army’s favor.
But Tuesday, Armed Forces’ commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told students in military schools that the current political failure to establish a dialogue “can lead to state failure,” a statement that was seen as critical to Morsy’s regime.
During his Sunday speech, Morsy invited opposition leaders for dialogue in the hope of reaching an agreement, an invitation turned down by the National Salvation Front (NSF), headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa.
The NSF said that while it was not opposed to engaging in dialogue with the president, it had a set of conditions, including forming a salvation government, that needed to be fulfilled before it agreed to any meetings.
The dialogue, attended by other opposition leaders, agreed to look into the possibilities of amending some articles of the Constitution through a committee to which NSF members were invited.
For Muslim Brotherhood member Ammar Fayed, the NSF position is to blame for the current impasse.
“The NSF failed to mobilize for a no vote against the Constitution and now they’re calling for it to be rewritten. That’s unacceptable,” he says.
Morsy’s opponents charge the Constitution, passed in a referendum in December, with being mostly a reflection of Islamist ambitions, rather than national consensus. The opposition has not trusted the Islamists’ intention to make concessions in what is deemed to be one of their most crucial battles in current power politics.
“The demands are not Morsy’s responsibility alone. The opposition is demanding things he doesn’t have the right to do,” says Fayed, referring to limitations enshrined in the Brotherhood-endorsed Constitution.
He dismisses any talk of postponing the parliamentary elections or disbanding the predominantly Islamist Shura Council, currently assuming legislative powers, saying they are bound by the Constitution.
Fayed, however, welcomes the idea of forming a salvation government, saying this is one concession Morsy can offer, in his opinion.
However, Sherif sees the call for dialogue as void.
“A dialogue in which context?” he asks. “Even if you engage in dialogue, it usually fails because the government is not willing to concede.”
Sherif says that the rulers are trying to stay the course and stall, in hopes that the crisis will pass, but instead are amplifying the anger toward them. The product is a response that is “insensitive to the reality.
“They just want to waste time until the crisis passes. They are not looking to find solutions,” he says.
But waiting may be a luxury they don’t have, with neither carrots nor sticks working toward solving the issue.
This piece appears in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.