“At least 15 were injured as thousands of protesters denouncing Egypt’s Islamist president marched on his palace in Cairo on Friday,” AP reports:
Security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at the crowd, who hurled stones and shoes over the fence into the compound during the eight day of violent protests that have shaken Egypt.
Protests were held in cities around the country on Friday after a call for rallies by opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. But some cracks appeared in the ranks of the opposition. Some in the crowds sharply criticized opposition leaders for holding their first meeting with the rival Muslim Brotherhood a day earlier.
The latest clashes raised fears that Egypt is unraveling in the face of sustained political violence.
Government claims that the unrest is being fomented by Israel were dismissed by one analyst as “an attempt from the Muslim Brotherhood to blackmail the opposition.”
“The crisis gripping Egypt has exposed a growing disconnect between the opposition movement’s political leadership and many of the young protesters in the streets,” writes The Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner:
The latest violence came a day after top opposition figures held a dialogue session with Morsi’s backers in the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative Islamists, later joining with them to issue a statement condemning violence. But it was unclear what, if any, impact the dialogue had on Friday’s demonstrations.
Many participants said they were disappointed in the NSF, which has called for a national unity government, and would keep protesting until Morsi was ousted. The opposition movement has been plagued by divisions over goals and tactics, even as it widened in the past week on the back of a wave of popular anger over police brutality.
“There’s definitely a fundamental difference on whether the goal of protest and making demands is ……. to get concessions from Morsi or whether they want to force Morsi from power,”said Michele Dunne, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The protests and the violence seem to not be in the full control of anyone, including the opposition,” said Samer S. Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.
“Things are more critical in some senses than the days when Mubarak was ousted. The authority of the state is really in question. Some people are no longer accepting the legitimacy of political institutions, including the presidency — and not just the officeholder,” he told The New York Times:
Several factors would determine whether efforts at a dialogue, like the one on Thursday, could pull Egypt from the brink, he said. They could succeed, he said, if Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood “realize the gravity of the situation, and realize, in a self-interested way, that they have lost many people who supported them previously, including many who held their noses and voted for Morsi,” Mr. Shehata said.
“Will Morsi and the F.J.P. make serious concessions, including vesting the opposition in the process?” Even then, he said: “Will the people on the street, who aren’t following the instructions of the opposition, take the developments to heart and go home?”
Morsi has failed to restore confidence in state institutions, says Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation in New York:
“What is shared in all of this—and the atmosphere that gives this oxygen—is the erosion of the authority and legitimacy of the state,” he says. “And that’s hard to restore.”
Today’s violence erupted a day after the sheik of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, convened a dialogue with leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a liberal and secular opposition coalition, ultraconservative Salafists and officials of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite such overtures, the government was continuing a pattern of “delegitimizing the opposition,” Shehata told The New York Times:
The general prosecutor’s office announced the latest arrest of a member of the Black Bloc, a mysterious and possibly minor antigovernment group that officials have labeled a terrorist organization, blaming it for some of the violence. ….. The person arrested on Thursday, the prosecutor asserted, was carrying out an “Israeli scheme” to bomb oil companies and other vital institutions, according to state news media.
Morsi is plagued more by indecision that sectarian commitments, says one leading analyst.
“One problem is that the president won’t make up his mind. Is he a reformist, a transitional spare tire president or a head of state?” says Emad Shahin, a professor at the American University of Cairo.
It’s a view echoed by other observers, including a well-known writer.
“President Morsi is not really here; he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s happening. He delivered a speech before us in idiom divorced from reality, as though he were living on another planet … He is responsible for all of the blood that is spilled each day on Egyptian soil,” said Sonallah Ibrahim.
The allegation that Israeli provocateurs are behind the unrest is more likely a reflection of the Brotherhood’s deeply–ingrained anti-Semitism than a serious likelihood, say analysts.
Officials and state media depict them as conspiratorial saboteurs, but the opposition says authorities are using the group as a scapegoat to justify a crackdown. Nearly 20 masked protesters are among hundreds arrested around the country the past week. Egypt’s official news agency said on Thursday that a member of the Black Bloc was arrested with “Israeli plans” and maps to target vital institutions — recalling past allegations by Mubarak-era security officials that opponents were carrying out Israeli interests.
“There’s a great deal of exaggeration concerning the Black Bloc group,” said Gamal Fahmy, an opposition figure. “It hasn’t been proven that the group has committed violence, these are just calls over the social media.”
“This is an attempt from the Muslim Brotherhood to blackmail the opposition,” he said.
If former President Hosni Mubarak is gloating that his prediction of chaos has come true, that’s because it wasn’t astute political analysis, but a promise, says a leading analyst.
“Mubarak was the primary author of the stunted and underdeveloped politics that Egyptians inherited two years ago, when they overthrew Mubarak’s regime,” writes William J. Dobson:
In his three decades in power, political institutions shrank more than they grew. He (and Anwar Sadat before him) refused to let genuine political parties spring up. Civil society and independent NGOs were caged birds whose wings were easily clipped. The only organization that flourished under his watch (besides the Egyptian military) was the Muslim Brotherhood—because the threat of Islamists running Egypt was a necessary ingredient of his combustible formula for making himself indispensable.
“Mubarak lacked many of the tools that other dictators enjoy to bolster his legitimacy,” says Dobson, author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy:
He couldn’t rely on oil revenue or natural resources (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia) or extraordinary economic growth (China, Vietnam). So his primary political weapon was to stoke people’s fears of what would happen if he wasn’t there. As I have written elsewhere, “He based his legitimacy on an alternative history, on events that hadn’t happened but that he insisted could. Mubarak’s chief political argument was a scary unknown that he skillfully conjured for audiences with the conviction of certainty.”