Morsi’s supporters running out of options

Egypt’s coup in pictures — mobile viewers click here

Originally published on Al Jazeera English, 5 July 2013

Cairo, Egypt – “May peace and God’s mercy be upon you,” the worshippers said as they looked to the right, and then to the left, before rising to their feet and starting their protest.

“Down, down with the military government,” they roared as they spilled into the streets from mosques across Cairo, calling for the return of Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency.

They had been saying all week that they were willing to defend Morsi’s presidency with their blood, and today they did.

At least three people were killed when protesters confronted soldiers at a presidential guard barracks in the country’s capital.

Friday was not unlike the beginning of demonstrations on January 28, 2011, when worshippers finished the Friday prayer and joined together in their thousands to march and conquer Tahrir Square – where they stayed until Hosni Mubarak was forced from office.

But today their mission was different. Instead of removing someone from power, they wanted to return someone to it.

“We’re worried about our President Mohamed Morsi,” said Nadia Mustafa, after finishing prayers at al-Istiqama mosque in Giza. She, like many other Morsi supporters, denounced the “military coup” that ousted him on Wednesday, and said she would only accept his return to office.

Abdel Moneim Sharif, another protester, shared that sentiment: “We’re not going to [stop protesting] until Morsi is restored to president and democracy is restored to Egypt.”

But millions of Egyptians opposed to Morsi say his ousting was an act of democracy – as it was the military acting on the will of the people. Their nationwide protests, which began on Sunday to mark one year since Morsi took office, left the army with little choice but to intervene.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Salmana Abdel Shafi, as he walked through Tahrir on the morning after Morsi’s ousting. “Stability has been restored, and now we can get back to work and life.”

‘Guardian of legitimacy’

On Wednesday night, Morsi’s handpicked leader of the army, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, read a statement in a televised address:

“As the armed forces cannot just turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the movement and call of the Egyptian people, they have invoked their patriotic, and not political, role.”

Morsi “had failed to meet demands of the people”, and was therefore no longer president of the Arab world’s most populous nation”, said Sisi.

But it is that definition of “the people” over which both sides continue to disagree.

Morsi’s supporters echo their leader’s defiant eve-of-ousting speech, in which he referred to himself as the “guardian of legitimacy”, since he had won the country’s first free presidential elections in June 2012.

But opposition figures have said the numbers of protesters in the street is proof that Morsi had lost that legitimacy during his brief one year stint in office.

Gehad Haddad, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood that first put Morsi forth as its candidate, told Al Jazeera he was unsure if it was a majority of the country that opposed Morsi or not.

However, he said many of the country’s problems since Morsi took office were the fault of opposition politicians who refused to take part in the political process.

“You don’t denounce a president midterm because you don’t like what he’s doing,” Haddad said of the opposition.

“You have to man up to your responsibility to build new parties and show up for policy discussions instead of whining about it on TV.

“And they have the audacity to stand next to a military general as he’s doing his coup and say: ‘I’m backing the voice of the people.’

“I don’t think it was a majority represented in the street. I think it was a group of different segments that managed to agree on not wanting the president – rather than on wanting anything else.

“Imagine how they will split once they have the responsibility of [governing] and choices to make.”


Since Morsi’s ousting, the military has cracked down on his supporters, arresting hundreds, including some in the group’s top leadership. Morsi himself is detained, yet no-one outside the military seems to know where.

While many of Morsi’s supporters have spoken repeatedly about “the blood” they’re willing to put on the line to defend him, most Morsi supporters and military authorities alike have said that violence was something they would rather avoid.

On the road leading to Rabaa al-Adawiya, the military that has been present since Sisi’s announcement on Wednesday, pulled off to a side street to avoid standing in the way of the angry masses.

As protesters on Friday passed military and police installations around the city, some chanted slogans against them, and others threw projectiles, but the majority here shouted down acts of violence, while others formed human chains to prevent the sides from clashing.

It wasn’t until a breakaway march left Rabaa al-Adawiya and headed just a few kilometres away, to an outpost of the presidential guard, when the violence erupted.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that one man had approached the building’s barbed wire fencing, holding a poster of Mohamed Morsi, when he was shot in the head by a soldier on the other side of the fence. He died moments later.

“He’s not even a Brotherhood member,” one man in tears shouted. “I know him, he’s only a good Muslim and they killed him.”

The army continued firing tear gas and birdshot, as military helicopter gunships circled above.

Other men approached the fence, one man carrying a flower, but it was clear they wouldn’t be able to challenge the well-trained officers on the other side.

Around Cairo, the Brotherhood’s critics have said the group remains well armed and could wage attacks against the state. They pointed to the border with Libya in the west, and to the Gaza Strip in the east as possible sources of more weaponry.

“Those Brotherhood members, they’re all armed,” one man in a cafe told others, as a pro-Morsi march passed nearby.

But many Morsi supporters told Al Jazeera they were firmly opposed to the idea of taking up weapons as a means to win back their power.

‘Back to the grassroots’

Outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the main site of ongoing pro-Morsi protests, men can be seem performing military-like drills, wearing construction hats and padded vests.

Haddad, the Brotherhood spokesperson, laughed when asked if they were meant to be threatening, and dismissed the notion that it was a sign of the group becoming militarised.

“It’s not even going to do anything against bullets, but at least it might deter thugs,” Haddad said.

The Muslim Brotherhood will only use peaceful means to challenge the military, he added.

“We’re going back to the grassroots and the source of real power – the people themselves,” Haddad said. “We’ll see where that takes us.”

But in Tahrir Square and elsewhere across the country, the anti-Morsi crowd has moved on.

They’re not concerned with a return of the Brotherhood. They know that the army, which produced more than six decades of Egypt’s leaders – each of whom waged their own crackdown on the group – is behind them.

Almost all of the journalists covering Friday’s pro-Morsi protests were reporting for foreign media.

One of the army’s first moves after taking power was to close Brotherhood-media outlets and other TV channels that were said to be pro-Morsi in their coverage.

So unless they followed the international press, social media, or attended the events themselves, most Egyptians will have little idea of the protests that took place today.

And with the military keeping tight control, it’s hard to see how the Brotherhood will be able to climb its way back into power any time soon.

Mina Daniel

I couldn’t place Mina Daniel’s name when it was announced that the 25-year-old activist was killed by the Egyptian military along with more than two dozen others at a protest last month. But I did recognize his face when I read this Ahram Online piece on his death. His smiling face has been stuck in my head ever since.

Today, I found Mina’s picture in my archive and immediately remembered the circumstances in which we met. It was during the uprising in early February when police were attacking protesters near to the ministry of interior. I was in a makeshift hospital in a mosque near to Tahrir Square when Mina was carried in by his friends. If I remember correctly, he was injured from birdshot in his leg. The small wounds looked painful, especially as doctors went in to remove some of the pellets. But Mina, as you can see in the picture below, grabbed his friends hand for support and laughed surely knowing that the injury could not stop their revolution.

Mina Daniel, January 2011 (image: Matthew Cassel)

Yes or No?

Na’am willa la?” (Yes or no?) A child shouted at a group of us covering today’s referendum in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo. I shouted back, “I dont know, what about you?” He laughed at the Arabic-speaking foreigner with a strange Egyptian accent and ran off with his friends.

Today, more than a month after Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, Egyptians from across the country cast their vote — yes or no — in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. The vote has been actively debated from TV stations to street corners. Traveling around the city the past few nights I’ve seen groups of people at Tahrir Square and other public areas standing in small groups debating the referendum. Anyone can join the debate, or, if you’re just passing by and want to hear some differing views, you can easily listen in. Democracy at work, and for the time being everyone is taking part. (Read the Guardian’s report on the referendum for more.)

Of all the various polling stations around town, it was important for me to go to the Imbaba neighborhood today. It’s in Imbaba where I witnessed intense street battles between the people and the police on 28 January. People fought for hours against police armed with tear-gas and other weaponry until the demonstrators forced the police to retreat before marching on to Tahrir Square where numerous other marches from around the city converged. Imbaba is considered one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, and it’s a telling sign of just how inclusive this revolutionary process is to see working class Egyptians from all backgrounds taking part.

28 January 2011:

On 28 January, demonstrators take position atop a building in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo during fierce battles with the police. (image: matthew cassel)

19 March 2011:

People wait for hours to cast their vote while a street vendor gets his hookah started (image:matthew cassel)

A voter shows off his marked hand in Imbaba (image: matthew cassel)

A voter in Imababa (image: matthew cassel)

One sign on a vendor's truck says "yes" to the referendum, and a female employee holds another sign reading "no." (image: matthew cassel)

Back in Cairo

Protests are continuing around the region, especially in countries like Bahrain and Yemen despite the uprisings in both countries receiving little coverage in most international media. Having just returned to Egypt from Tunisia, I can tell you that things are far from static in either of these two countries as various groups and individuals fight to deepen their respective revolutions. In the middle is Libya, where deadly battles wage on across the country. In Cairo on 12 March Libyans and their Egyptian supporters held a protest outside the Arab League in support of the ongoing uprising in Libya:

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

Meanwhile, just a 10 minute walk from the Arab League, Egyptian Coptic Christians continue a sit-in protest outside the State TV building in Cairo after one of their churches was destroyed in the Helwan area outside Cairo. (more on this: “Copts and Muslims clash in Cairo,” Al Jazeera)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

(image: matthew cassel)

The workers

Sadly, I have to leave Egypt to get back to Lebanon tomorrow. The events of the past few weeks have been absolutely unbelievable to be part of. Few thought that overthrowing Mubarak would be possible, but people power made it happen. However, it was only the first step in a larger struggle for rights and a more democratic government in Egypt — read my interview with blogger/activist Mona Seif for more on this. What happens next is up to the workers. Many who were part of the uprising to overthrow Mubarak, are now taking to the streets from various sectors to overthrow their corrupt union leadership and demand better pay and more rights. As this happens be sure to follow Egyptian photographer and journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy (, who has documented the struggle of Egyptian workers for years.

The below portraits are of public transport workers protesting in Cairo today:

(matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

The day after

I’ve never been one for national flags, but Egyptians waving them the day after deposing their dictator of 30 years didn’t bother me too much.

Saturday, 12 February:

Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

Activists drive around encouraging others to volunteer and help keep Cairo clean (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

A volunteer directs traffic near Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

Qasr al-Nil bridge (matthew cassel)

Sunday, 13 February:

Despite the 48 hours of celebrations, the revolution seems that it’s far from over. Egyptian workers are now organizing in their respective sectors for better pay, more rights, and against their corrupt union leadership. Protests happened across Egypt today, including one that I couldn’t believe. On 28 January I watched violent clashes when the police tried to repress the people’s uprising that became a nationwide movement that day. The police failed and the uprising surged ahead, but not before more than 300 were killed by the police and other branches of the Mubarak regime’s security forces.

But now, after the people’s victory, thousands of police are organizing for their rights and join in the larger revolution. My jaw dropped as I followed police across the Qasr al-Nil bridge where on the 28th they used all kinds of force against unarmed demonstrators. Today they chanted, “the police and the people are one,” playing on an earlier chant by protesters that went: “the army and the people are one.” There are a number of strikes and other worker-related actions planned in the coming days. It looks like the workers’ movement will be the new phase of the Egyptian revolution.

From repressing protesters to becoming one ... (matthew cassel)

24 hours in Cairo

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator who was hated by his people and backed by the US government for the past 30 years, is gone.

Thursday, 10 February:

Children at Tahrir Square hang out near pictures of some of the 297 people killed by Mubarak's forces since the uprising began (matthew cassel)

A man holds a poster of one of the women killed by Mubarak's forces in recent weeks. Although he didn't know her, he told me he felt she was his daughter. (matthew cassel)

An example of Egyptian humor: 'New from Kentucky, the leave combo.' Mubarak propaganda tried to make people believe that protesters were living well over recent weeks in Tahrir and eating free KFC. (matthew cassel)

Mubarak's speech on Thursday night (matthew cassel)

Protesters watch Mubarak's speech closely. The young man on the left has been protesting non-stop since January 25, while the man on the right was a political prisoner for 14 years in Mubarak's jails. (matthew cassel)

Protesters react to Mubarak announcing he will not leave office (matthew cassel)

Friday, 11 February:

The next morning, hundreds of thousands came to Tahrir to take part in Friday prayers and then continued protests against Mubarak (matthew cassel)

Protests began immediately after prayers ended (matthew cassel)

Protesters then marched to the building for the Egyptian state TV (matthew cassel)

Soldiers guarding the TV building clearly did not want to use violence against protesters. Some soldiers even started crying as the situation intensified. (matthew cassel)

Sign on the right reads: 'leave oh Mubarak' (matthew cassel)

A flying 'V' near the TV protest (matthew cassel)

Victory (matthew cassel)

Tahrir Square after news of Mubarak's resignation (matthew cassel)

(matthew cassel)

Tahrir Square post-liberation (matthew cassel)

And of course …

From left to right: the mother, uncle and sister of Khaled Said. The young man who was killed last year by Egyptian police in Alexandria. His death was a large part of the reason for the January 25th uprising that eventually led to the ouster of Mubarak (matthew cassel)