Egyptian Pres. Morsi Strikes Down Army’s Ultimatum While Deadline Quickly Approaches

Journalists Rania Al Malky & Mohamed Elmeshad discuss the potential for a coup and whether new elections would delay democracy and usher military rule

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Monday, Egypt’s military issued an ultimatum to President Morsi: step down or we’ll take over. Though Morsi has rejected this ultimatum, the clock is still ticking.

Now joining us to give us a sense of what’s happening on the ground are our two guests. We have Rania Al Malky, who is the publisher of the Egypt Monacle and the former editor of Daily News Egypt, which was the partner of The International Herald Tribune.

We also have Mohamed ElMeshad, who is a Cairo-based independent journalist who wrote for Egypt Independent for two years and is joining us from Cairo. Thank you, Mohamed, for joining us.

MOHAMED ELMASHAD, JOURNALIST: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: Thank you, Rania, for joining us as well.

RANIA AL MALKY, JOURNALIST: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: So, Rania, my first question is really about this 48-hour deadline that they gave President Morsi. And the clock is ticking. There’s even a website dedicated to looking at this countdown. It’s currently Tuesday night in Cairo right now. What is going to happen if the deadline passes and there is no resolution between the two sides?

AL MALKY: What I’m certain of is that there won’t be a resolution between both sides in the time dedicated for that. I think it was very clear from the first minute when the army put out that statement that it was planning to take over. I won’t call it a coup, but I think it’s some kind of a plan to maybe sponsor a new transition, to turn the clock back to February 11, to calm the street down, because Egyptians have just, you know, had enough.

The millions who came out yesterday were not just simply the traditional opposition to the president. These were the Egyptian people of, you know, all stripes from the entire political spectrum and from all different classes in Egyptian society, and they’ve just had enough. And I think the army needed to calm everyone down, because the scenes that we saw on Sunday, the marches and rallies were just, you know, phenomenal. I think there were even more people out there than during the protests that ousted Mubarak two and a half years ago. So I have a feeling that the army has made its decision. It’s going to [incompr.] and Morsi’s going to have to step aside.

But the problem is that in their statement, they were talking to–definitely they were addressing President Morsi, that he has to find a solution and that he has to heed the demands of the people. The problem now is that on the Egyptian street there are two sets of people. The army’s statement did not specify which people. I mean, of course we saw the masses going against Morsi, but there are also masses, hundreds of thousands, who are supporting him.

DESVARIEUX: So I’m going to ask Mohamed that same question. What do you anticipate happening once the 48-hour deadline has passed? Do you see the military executing a coup against the Morsi administration?

ELMESHAD: I mean, we can see what the military has actually said, which is denying–vehemently denying any implications or any allusions to a coup. You can also look at what they’re doing on the ground. I have–many of my sources have seen and I’ve seen and we’ve all seen one manifestation or another of military presence on the ground. But what you see isn’t normal sort of securing. There is different kind of military formations around different parts of Heliopolis, which is around where the presidential palace is. I mean, it seems like the military would be ready for a coup if that were to happen.

However, on the other hand, they say it’s not a coup. They say it’s just a roadmap. So some people say it might be a case where they’ll keep Morsi on as an honorary president or push forth early elections. You don’t really know.

What’s for sure is the military have kind of wisened up since 2011. It seems like they’re playing politics a bit more shrewdly, doing it in a way that seems to be more in tune with what they perceive and what we all perceive to see what people want.

DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk a little bit about the politics and the political landscape there in Egypt. I want to get a sense of who is the opposition, specifically the National Salvation Front. Who are they, and what do they want, Mohamed?

ELMESHAD: The National Salvation Front is a group of anti-Morsi politicians. I personally and I know many other people would be very careful calling them or indicating that they are in any way representative of all of Morsi opposition in Egypt at the moment. They are the most visible in the media landscape because of who they are. They comprise of many actual revolutionary figures, such as Hamdeen Sabahi, who is the head of–who was a presidential candidate, one of the front-runners and head of the main Nasserist party, Karama. It also includes former foreign minister Amr Moussa, as well as many other figure, many other party leaders. Some of them are seen as being Mubarak or tied to the old system. Some are new. So one of the criticisms they receive from pro-Morsi people or the pro-Morsi camp, and even, like, other opposition members who just oppose to this composition, is that it includes too many people from the Mubarak regime.

DESVARIEUX: I see. And, Rania, are you getting the same sense of the opposition? Who makes up the majority, would you say, of this opposition?

AL MALKY: Well, I have a lot of reservations about the National Salvation Front. I don’t think they represent the millions of people who went out there on Sunday. I think by and large they represent themselves and the very small groups who really follow them. A lot of people have been disappointed in their performance. But they have been at the forefront of all media, you know, like, the media battle against the current regime. That’s a fact.

But I think the majority of people who went out there are just ordinary Egyptians fed up with the daily grind, fed up with the difficulties that they’re facing in their daily lives every single day, and also fed up with the extremist Islamist discourse that may not have been espoused directly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the current head of state, but it has been tolerated to an extent that it has [incompr.] divisions among people, among Egyptians, among neighbors on the same street and which seem [incompr.] horrible examples of how that played out. But that said, I really don’t think that the opposition figures per se have this huge following.

You know, on the eve of June 30, the moderate campaign, the rebel campaign that started the signature grassroots movement and petition a few months ago was saying that we are–you know, they were saying–they were on the podium and they were saying, we do not represent or we do not follow Hamdeen Sabahi; [incompr.] doesn’t represent us. So it was very clear that this was very much a grassroots youth campaign. Like what happened somehow on January 25, they were able to rally the people and get people to join them on the streets.

Another thing that I wanted to add was that I think a lot of people who left their homes this time were the people who were watching the revolution on TV, possibly the people who were supporting the Mubarak regime. A lot of the–we call them the couch party or Hizb el-Kanaba in Arabic. And these people, I think, have come down because they are Shafik supporters to start with. They were the ones who probably voted for Ahmed Shafik, who used to be the last prime minister of the Mubarak regime. And they are obviously against the Muslim Brotherhood. And this was their opportunity to join, you know, the masses of Egyptians in this attempt at getting rid of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

DESVARIEUX: Mohamed, do you actually see that although they’re calling for new elections, what Egyptian protesters are going to be getting at the end of the day is more military rule?

ELMESHAD: Well, I mean, it might not necessarily be military rule, but I think, like, what might happen is a slight reversion to what we had before Morsi, before the Revolution, in the sense that many of those mobilizing, even though a lot of them are coming out out of legitimate cause for worry for what’s been happening during the Morsi regime, the only other organized group, organized in terms of having grassroots networks the way the Muslim Brotherhood does, is the former regime, the NDP, which was, obviously, very closely allied with the military.

We don’t have a long enough history of specific direct rule by the military, not since Nasser, at least, but one could say that we have been ruled by the military, since every president since Nasser has been a military man and Morsi is the first nonmilitary man. So it depends on what you mean by military rule. Are we talking a military junta à la, like, Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan? Or are we talking a security–what we call the security apparatus hold on government, a return to that? I think that’s for sure. And some would argue that that has not gone to begin with, that that has existed continuously. And maybe that’s why Morsi has not been able to have a strong enough grip on the government.

So what’s for sure is that whatever political group is in power, they will still be under the direct control of–sort of under the auspices of a military or of a security apparatus, however that would be defined, and the military would have a part of that. But how much of that isn’t really sure. This is a very, like, nebulous entity that many say includes military intelligence and Interior Ministry and interior intelligence, interior–the Interior Ministry and its surveillance apparatuses inside. So that’s what many think could be the delay that you’re talking about.

DESVARIEUX: Rania, do you agree with that statement?

AL MALKY: I agree with Mohamed that military rule never really left the scene. When Morsi abruptly removed Field Marshal Tantawi last August after the death of the 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai, you know, he just decided to use, you know, to seize the opportunity because it was a golden opportunity to sort of cull the military establishment’s involvement in politics.

But I think the most important thing for the military at this point is to safeguard their own interests. I mean, they had set the roadmap from day one. And they knew also from day one that the Muslim Brotherhood were the only ones who were going to be pragmatic enough and opportunistic enough to work with them on their own project and make sure that, you know, they safeguard their interests in the new Constitution. And this is what they’ve achieved. And anyone who takes power in the next phase, whatever happens over the next few days, is going to have to have a similar arrangement with the military, because they have too much at stake to let him go.

I mean, I can’t at the same time describe what is happening now as a coup, because I don’t think coups usually give 48-hour ultimatums before they happen. I’m convinced that there is some sort of deal being brokered behind the scenes that nobody knows anything about, because a lot of things don’t seem to make sense. Like, the army says, we’re going to give you 48 hours to resolve your differences. But it was very clear that they’re telling Morsi, you know what? You’re going to have to step aside. And at the same time they say, we’re going to sponsor a roadmap. I’m sure they know what the roadmap is before they decide to sponsor it. They won’t just come up with it.

ELMESHAD: They drafted and they’re waiting to be implemented, according to [crosstalk] military source, at least.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. We’ll certainly be following this in the coming days. Thank you for joining us, Rania.

AL MALKY: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us, Mohamed.

ELMESHAD: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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