Today is a dangerous day in Egypt’s ongoing political saga. General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has called for a mass demonstration of millions of people to support the interim government, but the supporters of ousted former president Mohammad Mursi plan to march in their millions to show their opposition to the authorities. It will be vital that all politicians keep their heads and all the leaders on the streets seek to avoid violence. This will be difficult as tempers are high and many in the opposition will be spoiling for a fight, thinking that violence will benefit their particular cause.
However, all politicians in Egypt need to work towards the goal of returning the country to civilian and constitutional government. Adly Mansour, the Interim President, has laid down a challenging timetable to rewrite the constitution, hold consultations on the new draft, seek popular approval through a referendum and then hold successive parliamentary and presidential elections — all within six months. This demanding timetable is important and it is essential that Mansour, the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court, does not get distracted from this primary duty.
And today offers substantial distractions with supporters of both Al Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets. On Wednesday, Al Sisi had called for “every honourable and honest Egyptian to come out, shoulder your responsibility with me, your army and the police, and show your size and steadfastness in the face of what is going on”.
Al Sisi wants a large turnout to give him a renewed mandate to legitimise his struggle against Mursi’s supporters, during which more than 100 people have been killed in the three weeks since Mursi was toppled, as supporters of the former president have clashed with both supporters of the coup and the security forces. The problem with seeking such ‘street mandates’ is that they delay the essential return to normal governance, which should be managed though an elected president and parliament.