Tomorrow, June 30th, is the fateful day for the showdown between the Islamists, and the rest. The stakes couldn’t be higher: a battle for the very soul of Egypt. Who speaks for Egypt?
The Tamarod, or Rebellion, movement claims to speak for the real Egypt: an Egypt of all Egyptians, regardless of sect; perhaps pious in private but secular in politics; moderate, forward-looking, eager to rejoin world economy and culture. Their critics say they speak only for the Egypt of tourist resorts and gated communities; megamalls and ballet at the Opera House; and Jon Stewart on the Bassem Youssef show. Not so, retort their defenders, they also speak for the millions of Egyptians whose livelihood depends on work in the tourism sector and on the construction sites, for the increasingly desperate man in the street who is suffering most from an economy in free fall. Tamarod is counting on them to flood the streets and the squares tomorrow; twenty million Egyptians are reported to have signed the petition withdrawing confidence from the Morsi administration and demanding that the president and his cabinet step down, paving the way for new elections as soon as possible.
On the other hand, Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood Party, along with their extremist allies the Salafis, have mobilized massive demonstrations of their own, to bolster their claim to speak for the real Egypt. An Egypt of bearded men and veiled women professing an ideology that rejects the separation of state and religion and demonizes westernization, secularism and all sects and religions other than their own. It is an ideology, their defenders say, they share with millions of like-minded fundamentalists across the Islamic world; and a party, the Muslim Brotherhood, that came to power through relatively legitimate elections and has no intention of ceding that power to pressure from the street.
In other words, what we are witnessing is an immovable object confronting an irresistible force. The resulting confrontation can only be brutal. Already, the day before the scheduled June 30th protest, thousands upon thousands of demonstrators have flooded public spaces in cities across the country, both in revolt against Morsi and in his support. Clashes between them have already led to several deaths, including the tragic, senseless stabbing of an American college student who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a street in Alexandria.
The two sides of the conflict have this in common: both sides profess not to trust the role of the U.S. Rumors and counter-rumors abound, about American policy directives in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. The Morsi administration does not trust the police, with good reason; it has officially devolved police peace-keeping duties to the armed forces. But what role will the military play? That is the real question. Who speaks for Egypt? Perhaps, in the final analysis, the tank does.