John Davison, AFP
Last updated: 7 December, 2012

Egypt protesters question use of peaceful tactics

Protesters rallying in Cairo against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi say they are still using peaceful tactics for now — but that their opposition movement could soon tip into violence.

“We will use any means necessary to bring down the regime,” warned Ahmed Dewedar, 25, a protester camping out in the capital’s Tahrir square. “There will be no stability until our demands are met.”

Seven deaths and hundreds of injuries on Wednesday, when pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators clashed outside the presidential palace, presaged what could come.

Although that scale of bloodiness has not yet returned, a hardening of positions on both sides underscores the potential for sustained street brutality.

“We could have stormed the presidential palace on Wednesday but we didn’t, we stayed peaceful,” said fellow activist Mahmud Ghazawi, 35. “But we won’t be peaceful for ever.”

Thousands of protesters converged on the palace again on Friday in a new show of opposition, one clearly infused with steely determination.

A speech by Morsi on Thursday night, when he refused to bend to the demands of opposition, had ratcheted up the tension and strengthened their resolve, transforming their demand that he repeal new powers he has given himself into a wholesale cry for him to step down altogether.

In Tahrir Square, another protest gathering spot and the place most associated with the downfall of Egypt’s former hardman president Hosni Mubarak, invective demonised the country’s current leader.

A banner carried around the square read “Down with Adolf Morsi, down with the new Hitler.”

Another, more ominously, warned: “As Nasser said, the Muslim Brotherhood is not to be trusted,” a reference to Egypt’s late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who cracked down fiercely on the Islamist group that now holds power.

The current crisis polarising Egypt has created instability that makes the country’s trajectory unclear.

“It could turn into a Lebanon scenario,” where sectarian tension sparked civil war in the mid-1970s, said Mohammed al-Sheikh, a 27-year-old member of prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei’s Dustur party.

“What is happening in Egypt is already a civil war,” said one activist who asked not to be named. “Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have split the people trying to impose their void, corrupt constitution.”

Many Tahrir Square demonstrators stressed that while non-peaceful means of protest were being mulled, they should only be a last resort.

A cleric from Cairo’s prestigious Islamic institution Al-Azhar railed against Morsi through a megaphone, saying: “We will die here in the square, from illness or starvation, for the sake of our martyrs.”

Those less willing to abandon peaceful protest hoped the army would intervene should the crisis escalate.

“The army is powerful,” said Sheikh. “If things get out of hand, they’ll come in.”

“There will be violence, for certain. All sides are willing to escalate. But when the army comes, it will be the end of the president and the end of the Brotherhood, and we will start a new life,” Magdi Hossein, 50, asserted.

“The army has always been on the side of the people,” he added.

As protesters swelled in the square and outside the presidential palace on Friday, it was clear that opponents of Morsi and his Islamist government would not back down.

“We want a constitution, but one that everyone has agreed on,” said Ghazawi of a charter that was drafted by Morsi’s Islamist allies amid a boycott by liberals and Christians and that is due to be put to a referendum on December 15.

“Yes, Morsi was elected by 30 million people. But they didn’t vote for him to be president for ever. Now he only represents 5 million people — the Brotherhood and their supporters — out of a population of 85 million.

“They’re talking about religion and trying to impose an Islamic state. They’re trying to make themselves into prophets.”