by Avi Melamed
Tension is skyrocketing in Egypt.
On Sunday, June 30th, a massive demonstration is scheduled to take place in Cairo. This demonstration marks the climax of a widening public campaign launched in Egypt under the name “Tamarrud” (“Rebellion”).
The Tamarrud campaign calls for the resignation of Egypt’s elected president Mohamed Morsi, the dispersing of the Egyptian Parliament and the holding of new elections.
Ever since the revolution and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, Egypt has been experiencing ongoing political turbulence, a deepening economic crisis, increasing disorder and escalating violence. The campaign and the expected demonstration are another link in a long chain of public expressions of discontent in Egypt.
In December 2012 I published a video analyzing the situation in Egypt. My main message then was that Egypt was entering a long, rugged process of a struggle over identity and the building of a new consensus. I predicted that this process would inevitably generate massive turbulence. The constant unrest and tension in Egypt’s streets that we have witnessed time and time again are a reflection of this process.
However, this time it seems that the level of anxiety is higher than usual. Both foreign as well as Egyptian observers express growing concern that the demonstration on June 30th will spark violence on an unprecedented scale which could spin out of control. In fact, some even portray a scenario of a low intensity civil war in Egypt.
Is Egypt on the verge of a civil war? As of now I think the answer is no. Different reasons and factors lead me to such a conclusion including: expression of nationalistic sentiments, the diversity of the protests, a variety of channels for ventilation, the social and ethnic fabric of the country, the growing role of civil society organizations and above all – the Egyptian army. All of these factors and others function as buffers that keep Egypt away from slipping into civil war.
The major factor is the Egyptian army. The army enjoys the affection and support of people across Egyptian society. The army is perceived by the Egyptians as solid, reliable and responsible. The army is perhaps the one symbol that Egyptians are not conflicted about.
Up until now, the army has kept its distance from the political turmoil. Yet, as the unrest continues and deepens more and more people openly wish that the army would step in and restore order and stability.
If the event on June 30th sparks – as feared – uncontrolled violence, it is very likely that the army will step in to restore order and to stabilize the situation. However, no matter what the army does, it cannot protect the Egyptian people from doing what they need to do. The Egyptian people must go down the path of building their consensus and they will have to endure the challenges that go with that journey. The turbulence involved in that process will keep on coming.