Liberals pressing for democracy after coup
Advocates who called for Morsi's removal skeptical of Military's influence in EGYPT
CAIRO — The liberal and youth movements that backed the military's removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi are now pushing to ensure their calls for change are heard in the face of the generals' strong grip on the new leadership. At stake is the hope that the Arab world's most populous nation will emerge from more than two years of turmoil as a democracy.
Morsi's removal brought a wave of celebration after millions nationwide joined four days of protests last week demanding his removal. But that is giving way to a harder reality for the democracy advocates who organized the protests — including many of the same movements that led the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 then opposed the military's subsequent 17-month rule.
Many are wary of the military's influence and skeptical that it backs their reform agenda and insist they must not become a liberal facade. But they are also under heavy pressure to keep unity within the military-backed leadership: The charged nationalist, pro-army atmosphere that has swept the country has little tolerance for breaking ranks at a time when Islamists continue protests demanding the return of Morsi.
Earlier this week, the head of the military issued a sharply worded statement that reinforced that message, warning political factions against "maneuvering" that holds up progress.
The strategy of the revolutionary groups — an array of leftist, secular and liberal movements — is to push hard for figures they trust to take the top spots in the new government being constructed that will run the country, probably until early next year.
So far they seem to be succeeding. Leading reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, an iconic figure to some activists, has been named vice president. An economist active in the movements is the new prime minister.
ElBaradei's appointment is "a great revolutionary gain," Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a leader of Tamarod, the youth activist movement whose anti-Morsi petition campaign led to the protests, wrote on the group's Facebook page. Once the government is formed, the next battle is to "impose the vision of the revolution, more importantly, on the permanent constitution."
On Thursday, the National Salvation Front — the main grouping of liberal and secular parties, in which ElBaradei is a senior leader — demanded the Cabinet "be made up from figures who belong to the Jan. 25 Revolution."
Much is on the line for the movements: They have to prove their gambit of supporting the military ouster of the country's first freely elected leader can bring a democracy. When army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced on national TV on July 3 that Morsi had been removed, standing with him were ElBaradei and representatives of Tamarod, along with the sole Islamist group backing Morsi's ouster, the Al-Nour Party, and other figures.
Their presence implied that they would have a say in power. But it opened them to charges that longtime proponents of democracy were fomenting a military takeover. Morsi's Islamist supporters say the military's coup has destroyed democracy and is bringing back dictatorship. The United States has expressed concern over the military's move, though it acknowledges the popular support for it. "It's clear that the Egyptian people have spoken," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
The liberals' position was made even harder after more than 50 pro-Morsi protesters were killed by troops and police in clashes Monday.
Amr Ezzat, a human rights researcher, said the military will have to respect the voices of the revolutionary movements.
"ElBaradei has a role and influence in what is going on. El-Sissi knows there is opposition out there, which managed to turn things upside down. It must have a representative (in power). This is progress," he said.
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