Supporters and opponents of Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, are staging rival protests in Cairo on Friday as he marks his first year in power. Ahead of the mass rallies, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood said one of its members was shot dead in an attack on a provincial party office, and it blamed groups that are leading the campaign to force Morsi from office.
Morsi this week called on his detractors to push for change at the ballot box — not in the streets — adding that "enemies of Egypt" are trying to "sabotage the democratic experience." Opposition leaders said Morsi was the one who derailed the country's pro-democracy revolution by replacing Hosni Mubarak's rule with an oppressive Islamist regime. Egypt's army chief warned that the military would intervene if necessary to stop the nation from erupting in chaos. Is Egypt's democracy about to collapse?
Morsi's opponents don't think so. They say they are trying to save Egypt's democracy, not destroy it. They have accused the former Muslim Brotherhood member of ramming an Islamist constitution down the throats of the secular and Christian opposition in an autocratic manner worthy of the iron-fisted Mubarak. The people might have accepted the seeming continuation of authoritarian rule, Magdy Samaan, a Cairo-based journalist for London's Daily Telegraph tells the Los Angeles Times but only if Morsi hadn't also failed to revive the crumbling economy and reverse a crackdown on foreign, pro-democracy NGOs.
Because none of these things has materialized, Morsi is now treading on thin ice. We shall soon see how strong his hold on power really is. [Los Angeles Times]
Regardless of a leader's failings, however, it is hard to argue that forcing him or her out would be a feather in the cap of any democracy. John L. Esposito notes at The Huffington Post that nobody (not even Morsi himself) is denying that he has made mistakes, including his refusal to reach out to some of his rivals to build a broader coalition. "But the response of an outraged opposition," Esposito says, "ought to be recourse to the democratic process not calls to topple the first democratically elected government in Egypt's history." If Morsi's opponents want to save their democracy, he says, they should speak up and demand reforms:
This is an opportunity for all Egyptians to embrace the notion of loyal opposition, a pillar of a democratic peoples government. One can be relentless and fierce in opposition to elected officials but must be loyal at the same time to the nation's system of government. Egypt has a mechanism to remove Morsi and any future presidents or members of parliament and that is the next round of elections. [Huffington Post]
The prognosis for Egypt's democracy might become more clear on Sunday, when opposition groups mark the end of Morsi's first year on the job with even bigger rallies to demand that he call early elections and quit. The Tamarod (or Rebel) campaign says it has gathered 15 million petition signatures — outnumbering by several million the votes Morsi got to win the presidency last year.
"The level of violence on Sunday," predicts Abu Dhabi's The National in an editorial, "may reveal what lies ahead." If both sides can keep a lid on the bloodshed, "Egypt's democratic future will be shown to be sturdy and promising — and the next elections will be quite interesting. But widespread violence, however it starts, would only weaken the government's fragile legitimacy, encourage further violence from both sides, and tempt the army to sweep democracy away."