Egypt is bracing for June 30. Anticipation for the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Mohammed Morsi has reached a fever pitch, as millions prepare to take to the streets to demand his removal from office. Fears of a showdown between protesters and the president’s supporters have led people to stock up on food and fuel supplies. The military and police are deploying extra forces and barriers around public buildings and army tanks have reportedly taken up positions outside the capital.
One year ago, many Egyptians had hoped the inauguration of the country’s first-ever democratically elected president would mark a turning point following decades of autocratic rule and a turbulent transition. Yet since Morsi took office, the political quagmire has only deepened, the economy has been in decline and daily life has become harder for most Egyptians.
The country is plagued by frequent fuel and diesel shortages that create long lines outside gas stations and cause incapacitating traffic jams. Electricity blackouts have become a daily routine during the hot summer months. Prices for food, medicine and other staple goods have sharply risen as the Egyptian pound has lost 10 percent of its value leaving already impoverished families less to live on. Unemployment is growing, tourism and investment are down sharply, the stock market hit an eleven-month low last week, while insecurity, crime and vigilante violence are on the rise.
"The economy is in the garbage, everything is more expensive," says Ahmed El-Noubi, a 58-year-old shop owner in the working-class district of Sayeda Zainab. "After a year of the Muslim Brotherhood, people cannot tolerate them. The street opposition is reawakening."
The frustration is palpable. During Morsi’s first year in office, Egypt witnessed over 9,400 demonstrations, according to a report published by the Cairo-based International Development Centre, more than anywhere in the world. The anti-government sentiment will culminate in mass protests on June 30, anticipation for which has built exponentially through a grassroots initiative that has collected millions of signatures on a petition whose slogan is a call for revolt: Tamarod, Arabic for "rebel."
The campaign was started by a group of young organizers affiliated with the Kefaya opposition movement, founded in 2005 to call for political reform under Mubarak. Its goal was simple: to draft a petition declaring a vote of no confidence in the president and to call for early presidential elections. Written in the everyday colloquial Arabic of the street, the document addresses the president directly. "Because security still isn’t back," it reads, "we don’t want you.… Because the poor still have no place, we don’t want you. Because the economy has collapsed and is based on begging [from abroad], we don’t want you."
Since it was launched in Tahrir Square on May 1, the campaign has gained momentum, with volunteers handing out copies on the street, on university campuses, in shops, even in government offices. By the end of May, organizers said they gathered seven million signatures through a largely decentralized volunteer network that spread throughout Egypt’s provinces. They now claim to have hit their target of 15 million signatures, surpassing the 13 million votes that elected Morsi a year ago in a runoff against Ahmed Shafik, a stalwart of the former regime.
"The Tamarod campaign has shone a spotlight on the failure of this presidency politically, economically and socially," says Mahmoud Badr, a spokesman and founding member of Tamarod, who says he was surprised at the level of enthusiasm and participation they received when they first launched the campaign. "The petition gave us all a way to unite under one simple goal."
Gathering signatures has a rich precedent in Egyptian politics. After the 1918 armistice that ended World War I, Egyptian nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul and his colleagues drafted a petition to secure a national mandate to speak on behalf of Egyptian national aspirations at the Paris Peace Conference and to present Egypt’s case for complete independence from the British. In spite of obstruction by British officials, they succeeded in gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures from across Egypt in a short amount of time. The British administration responding by arresting Zaghlul and his colleagues and deporting them to Malta, a move that sparked a nationwide uprising and marked the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution of 1919.
More recently, the National Association for Change, founded by reform advocate Mohammed El Baradei, launched a campaign in 2010 that collected more than a million signed petitions to pressure then-President Hosni Mubarak for political reforms and fair elections. The campaign was backed by various opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and came just months before the January 25 revolution.
Now, organizers of the Tamarod campaign are hoping for a rebellion of their own, armed with a newly galvanized opposition movement and millions of signed petitions that will culminate in large-scale street protests at the end of the month. Tamarod organizers and the political opposition have even laid out a post Morsi road map, with the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court taking over as interim president backed by a small cabinet of technocrats and new presidential elections six months later.
Organizers view the petition campaign as deriving revolutionary legitimacy from the street, the same source of authority that toppled Mubarak. Yet much of the discourse around the revived protest mobilization has been hijacked by elements tied to the former regime who have openly called for the army to step in and remove the Brotherhood from power. By most accounts, the chances of this president stepping down are slim. Morsi was voted into office for a four-year term in elections that are widely viewed as being free and fair and the petition to withdraw confidence from the president has no constitutional or legal standing to contest his authority. Morsi himself has called the demands for an early presidential vote as "absurd and illegal."
What’s more, Morsi is backed by millions of his own supporters, with a core constituency made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which he hails, who have launched a counter signature-gathering campaign called Tagarod — or "Impartiality."