Opinion: Why Egyptian protesters welcome the support of the army

Updated 10:33 AM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
05:46 - Source: CNN
Morsy defies military's ultimatum

Story highlights

Protesters across Egypt have demanded that President Mohamed Morsy resign

The Muslim Brotherhood has responded with 'insane religious rhetoric', writes Dalia Ziada

Many Egyptian people believe that the army is not interested in having a political role

Ziada: One mistake was to accelerate democratization by rushing into presidential vote

Editor’s Note: Dalia Ziada is an Egyptian liberal human rights activist and executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo. She has received several international awards and last year was named by CNN as one of the Arab World’s eight “Agents of Change.”

(CNN) —  

For the fourth successive day, millions of people packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square and similar sites across Egypt Wednesday, calling for President Mohamed Morsy’s immediate resignation and for presidential elections to be held in the near future.

Already the protests have paid off quicker than anyone expected. In a scenario similar to when President Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the first wave of revolution in 2011, the military has abandoned Morsy and announced its complete backing and support for the demands of the people.

Dalia Ziada
courtesy dalia ziada
Dalia Ziada

On Monday the defense minister gave Morsy and his regime 48 hours to respond to the people’s demands, leaving the current rulers in utter shock and confusion. Soon after this statement was broadcast on national television, many people were congratulating each other, celebrating the return of the military and counting down the hours, minutes and seconds till the Muslim Brotherhood relinquish power. Other major institutions like the police, the church and the judiciary have announced a similar approach towards the demands of the people and applauded the statement from the military.

The only group in the country that has not been happy is the Muslim Brotherhood and some of their fellow Islamist parties. Rather than working on a solution to the political crisis, the leaders of the Brotherhood have responded by mobilizing their followers with insane religious rhetoric to start jihad against the opposition.

On Tuesday night Morsy himself made a long speech about his alleged legitimacy: he said blatantly that he is willing to protect this with blood and that he will only give it away is when he is dead.

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For many Arabic listeners those words will be clear incitement to jihad: many of Morsy’s followers may be fooled by the fact that he got his legitimacy from God as an Islamist president. A few minutes after the speech, violent clashes started at several locations across Egypt, resulting in fatalities.

Meanwhile, some international observers have described what is now happening in Egypt as a soft military coup. I reject those short-sighted claims as an Egyptian who proudly planned for and participated in the toppling of Mubarak in 2011; who condemned the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which governed after Mubarak in 2012 but then failed us; and who has planned for and is now protesting against the Muslim Brotherhood from a determination to establish a liberal democracy in Egypt.

There is nothing to suggest that the military is implementing or even plotting a coup. Monday’s critical move by the military in favor of the people comes from a patriotic sentiment: to protect the people, with whom they are an integral part and to whom they hold the utmost responsibility to protect and empower.

In March, the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies ran a public opinion poll asking Egyptians whether they see the return of the military as a solution for the cumulative political and economic failures of the Morsy regime. The poll showed that 82% of those surveyed supported the return of the military to power. The majority of the sample were young people under the age of 35, most of whom were protesting against the SCAF a few months before the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Those results strongly reflect the huge support we are now witnessing.

The people trust the military more than they trust any other institution in the country. This is partly because of the military’s historical legacy that has left it as the strongest in the region. Another important reason is that military officers, who are very much part of the fabric of the country, are very patriotic and loyal to noone but Egypt. Much of this is because the military has sustained a professionalism that has allowed it to be independent in making its own decisions. The interests of the military are not dependent on the interests of the regime or any supreme authority in Egypt.

That is why it was easy for the military to abandon Mubarak in 2011 in favor of the people, something that the police, for example, could not do because their existence relied heavily on the existence of the then regime. Mubarak’s Egypt was not a military state: rather it was a police state that abused the armed power of the police to fasten the regime’s grip on the neck of the opposition.

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Therefore, many Egyptian people believe the military when they say that they are not interested in playing a political role or ruling again. It is in the best interests of the military to remain neutral and independent. We were ruled by the SCAF after the fall of Mubarak: after that, both the military and the people knew very well that military leaders cannot be good politicians.

The military and the people are now looking for the right civil leader who can lead a liberal democratic state. As soon as Morsy is brought down, the people and the military need nothing more than to agree on a clear roadmap and a specific timeframe to make this happen as soon as possible.

Many observers have asked why those people who protested against SCAF a year ago are now warmly welcoming their return. I have the answer. We realized that we committed a huge mistake when we wanted to accelerate the process of democratization by rushing into presidential elections before drawing up a constitution first.

This mistake has cost us a full year of endless failures and problems. What we are doing today is taking one step backwards to where we were before the Muslim Brotherhood came to power and restarting again on the right foot.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dalia Ziada.