This is a guest post from Cairo-based journalist Evan Hill. Follow him on Twitter @evanchill.
CAIRO -- It wasn't that long ago that Mohamed was protesting against Egypt's generals.
Now he's welcoming their overthrow of the country's elected president.
[the military] learned from their experience, and we need the military to push Morsy
out," said Mohamed Arafat, an organizer for the opposition Social Democrats.
role of the Egyptian military in the protest movement -- what Morsy and his
supporters have described as nothing short of a coup -- was almost inevitable.
It was an intervention that many who wanted Morsy gone had contemplated, though
few were willing to commit the faux pas of demanding it bluntly. Now, finally,
they're speaking their minds.
months, high-ranking members of the formal opposition made hints and
suggestions and uttered flattering praise to the generals, stopping short only
of calling for the Egyptian Army to park its tanks outside Morsy's federal palace
in posh Heliopolis and take him away, though something akin to that scenario
may have occurred on Wednesday, when Morsy was reportedly held in a Republican
Guard facility -- incommunicado, according to top aides -- after refusing to
Morsy issued an explosive set of unilateral decrees placing himself above
judicial scrutiny in November, the opposition's suggestions of military
intervention increased. In February, after security forces were filmed
ruthlessly stripping and beating a man while forcefully breaking up anti-Morsy
protests at the palace, the secretary-general of the main opposition coalition,
the National Salvation Front (NSF), said
that it was the military's responsibility to protect civilians,
though not to play a political role. By March, with many in the NSF convinced
that Morsy's days were numbered and the opposition preparing to boycott
parliamentary elections, Free Egyptians Party chief Ahmed Said promised that Morsy
"will be forced one day to leave office," suggesting
it could easily occur if unrest bred enough chaos to force the Army's hand.
Even Mohamed ElBaradei -- for many a beacon of principled, progressive democracy
and an opponent of Army intervention -- allowed that military rule would be better than Islamist militias.
Free Egyptian and Social Democrat party operatives mused that if they simply
stayed out of the political fray, the Muslim Brotherhood would bear sole
responsibility for the country's post-uprising decline. If that decline caused
the military to become involved, so be it.
months of stalemate and the opposition's repeated rejection of barely serious
dialogue offers from the presidency, a group of low-profile activists appeared
to come out of nowhere, launching a nationwide signature-gathering campaign
called Tamarod ("Rebel") that managed to mold Egypt's widespread malaise into
one objective: end Morsy and the Brotherhood's rule.
July 1, a day after millions of Egyptians rallied by Tamarod took to the
streets against Morsy, the opposition's quiet wishes came true: The military,
watching as demonstrations swelled far beyond the size that brought down Hosni
Mubarak, offered a 48-hour ultimatum for the two sides
to reach consensus. The statement was addressed to "everyone," but it was
clearly aimed at Morsy.
armed forces warns that if the demands of the people are not met, it will be
obligated ... out of respect for the demands of the great Egyptian people, to
announce a road map and measures for the future that it would oversee," the
drive the point home, the military dispatched helicopters to Tahrir Square two
days in a row. Some dropped flags on the packed masses to raucous cheering; others
trailed them from ropes. The generals took cockpit
film showing the massive crowds and dispatched them to CBC, a widely
viewed and sympathetic television station. CBC aired the footage, coupled with
patriotic music, to acclaim.
about-face in the military's reputation on the street was stunning. During the
2011 uprising against Mubarak, the lone military helicopter in near-constant
rotation over the square was jeered. Protesters on the ground angrily waved the
soles of their shoes in the air, while those who had taken up residence on
surrounding rooftops ducked out of sight behind satellite dishes. They watched
in anger as soldiers stationed around the city allowed opposing crowds to
collide in the massive street fight known as the Camel Battle. Behind the
hopeful chants of "the people and the army are one hand" were fear and a strong
suspicion that the military never had any of the revolution's interests in
recent days, the whiplash shift in sentiment left many committed leftists and
progressives stunned and worried. Posters of Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
a general elevated by Morsy who had once defended the military's "virginity tests" on female protesters arrested
in Tahrir Square, began appearing around Cairo. They were pasted to the back of
cars, taped on the walls of fast-food restaurants, and hoisted by protesters in
Tahrir Square. Marchers chanted "come down, Sisi," encouraging the military
chief to oust the Brotherhood. When the critical moment came on Wednesday
night, it was Sisi who took the podium first, backed by four flags of the
Egyptian armed forces, to tell the nation that the military had brought down
the days leading up to the announcement, protesters offered various
explanations for the military's return to politics, but none suggested it was
unwelcome. A crowd of a few hundred camped outside the Defense Ministry were
ecstatic at Sisi's 48-hour deadline, marching in long loops around the boulevard
outside the barbed wire with low-ranking officers leading chants against the
Brotherhood. Elsewhere, those who had protested against the military during the
bloody 18 months of post-uprising rule, when it led the country as the Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), said they hoped the generals would do a
better job this time.
don't trust the SCAF, and I will protest them again, but Sisi is a different
man than Tantawi," said Arafat, the Social Democrat organizer, referring to
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who led the SCAF during the transition.
By the time the military oversaw the June 2012 election that delivered Morsy to
the presidency, Tantawi had become the target of protesters' rage, his face
spray-painted next to Mubarak's on Tahrir Square graffiti.
few shared even Arafat's conditional skepticism. The Tamarod opposition group
blatantly claimed allegiance to the military; leader Mamdouh Badr said Sisi's
ultimatum "crown[ed] our movement." The Egypt of Gamal
Abdel Nasser, the former president and army colonel who helped lead the 1952
revolution, would defeat the Egypt of Morsy, Badr said.
made it known that it would not allow criticisms of the military, and in
rallies leading up to the mass June 30 protest, those who disagreed or shouted the well-used
post-uprising slogan, "down, down with military rule," were forcibly removed.
Now is not the time, others told them.
a Tuesday protest outside another of Cairo's presidential palaces, Haitham Omar
and Alaa Farid insisted that Egypt needed the military to be the guarantor of
the transition after ousting Morsy and that the generals would only serve as
"supervisors," not rule themselves.
Mohamed ElBaradei or anyone takes the prime ministership, who will guarantee
that the country accepts that? The military," said Omar, a 30-year-old
rejected the idea that the Army had committed crimes during their 18 months in
power, such as beating and torturing protesters or bringing thousands of
civilians before military trials for crimes ranging from theft to civil
went down on the 28th [of January 2011] and was against the police," said
Farid, a 29-year-old chemist holding a sign bearing a QR code that linked to a
website that wrote "leave" in 14 languages. "And by the way, I'll tell you
something: In the period when the Army took over, there wasn't any propaganda
made against the military except by the Muslim Brotherhood. Eighty-three years.
They were looking to rule."
demonstrators said they were confident that the military was working on their
behalf -- that the generals were a tool in their hands, rather than the other
Army is part of the Egyptian people.... [Sisi] is doing our will," said David
Michel, an engineer and Free Egyptians member who was helping coordinate
supplies for the sit-in protest at the federal palace. "We don't have the force
to make this president go ... and maybe the kind of mechanism is military force."
said only a small number of people had actually protested against the military
during the transition and that they lacked vision and an understanding of
hate this kind of word, ‘military rule,'" he said. "They are Egyptians. They
are not military. They are our sons and friends.... I don't want the military to
rule, but they can be part of this."
allowed that the generals may have made mistakes when they assumed control of
the country but explained that it had been a "critical time" and that the
officers had always acted to support the Egyptian people.
are from us, Egyptians, not like Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood are not
Egyptians; they are always doing things for their group, only."
the headquarters of the Free Egyptians on Tuesday, just 24 hours before Sisi
would announce the end of Morsy's presidency, Said, the party president,
sounded assured and confident. For he and others in the opposition, the goal
they had harbored since the Brotherhood began to make serious political gains
in late 2011 -- restarting the transition period -- was about to be achieved.
don't consider this a coup, but it is a response to the Egyptian will," he
said, enumerating the post-Morsy "road map" -- a technocratic cabinet, the
chief justice as interim president, a committee to amend the Constitution --
that Sisi would read nearly verbatim the following evening.
said he was "very hopeful" that the generals would run the transition period
successfully and predicted that the mass anti-Morsy protests spelled the
retreat of political Islam in Egypt for decades, unless it managed to
restructure itself completely.
starting from the very beginning certain things that went wrong in the past
year," he said. "Luckily we found out what the intentions of the Muslim
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images