After being away – I won’t say staying away – from Egypt for over 18 years, I went to Cairo, the capital that hosted me, along with millions of other Arabs and Muslims, in its universities, schools, and hospitals without any discrimination. It is no exaggeration to say that we were all pampered in those days by the people and the government because we were their guests.
I not only met with President Mohamed Morsi but also most of the leaders of the opposition. I had hoped to meet them all but ran out of time after I had meetings with senior military officials and many of my fellow journalists and intellectuals. My intention was to get to know every aspect of the current situation, to recharge my batteries and update my memory bank.
Today, Egypt is at a crossroads, living through an unprecedented struggle, facing internal conspiracies and external threats; and numerous attempts, both Arab and foreign, to bring it to its knees, hijack the revolution and kill the chances for it to flourish.
There are two issues of great importance that can determine Egypt’s future; one is domestic and the other is external.
The severe and growing gap between the regime and the opposition is, obviously, an internal problem. This division is taking on the characteristics of a war, especially on the part of the opposition, which insists on overthrowing the regime and preventing President Morsi from completing his first term in office by calling for an early presidential election.
The other issue revolves around the threat from Ethiopia’s construction of the Renaissance Dam to divert the flow of the Blue Nile and create a lake with a capacity of over 18 billion cubic metres of water. Israel is playing a major role in encouraging the construction of this dam, along with other dams, to divert Egypt’s attention to the south, rather than the north and east, where Israel is occupying land and carrying out state terrorism in its ugliest form.
Those who listen to the opposition leaders, or most of them, come away with the impression that it is impossible to live with President Morsi. They give a long list of examples in support of their opinion and point out the mistakes that he has made. They don’t want to hear any other point of view or that he has spent less than a year in office which is nowhere near long enough for anyone to be able to make an objective judgement about his performance.
The opposition wants a secular state and believes that the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule poses a dangerous threat to the country. It also fears the “Ikhwanification” of Egypt and distresses itself over the possibility of the Brotherhood playing a role for decades to come. However, the opposition is divided and there are disputes amongst the various groups which are bigger than their differences with President Morsi, who they want to be a president for all Egyptians, and rightly so.
They have called for a “day of rebellion” against the government and the president at the end of June. Political and media circles are salivating at the thought of people taking to the streets to express their desire to destabilise and overthrow the regime.
The opposition leaders realise that they alone cannot topple the regime and force it to hold early presidential elections; they hope that the Egyptian army will do this and seize power in a military coup to put an end to the current stalemate.
Over dinner with a senior military official I had the chance to meet members of the Supreme Military Council and hear their opinions about what is going on. They assured me that the army “will not be a stick in anyone’s hand” and they “will not carry out a military coup”; it is, after all, the people’s army. Moreover, they accused the political elite, both the government and opposition, of failure. They also stressed that the ballot boxes were the judge and that President Morsi should complete his term so that the Egyptian voters who elected him through democratic means have the option of voting him out by the same process.
The host at this dinner appeared to be intellectually and politically closer to Nasserism and liberalism than the Muslim Brotherhood. He was very frank and stressed to me that the current stage, in which Egypt and its water supply and national security are exposed to very real threats, requires domestic disputes to be put to one side and the government and opposition to stand united to confront them.
President Morsi seemed relaxed during my meeting with him, which lasted about 45 minutes in the presence of his advisor, Dr Ayman Ali. He said that the opposition have a right to demonstrate and express their point of view: “Isn’t that democracy?” he asked. He also spoke highly of some of the opposition leaders, particularly Hamdeen Sabahi, the head of the Egyptian Popular Current.
The president’s priorities can be summed up as agricultural production, reviving heavy industries such as iron and steel, achieving self-sufficiency in wheat, improving educational and health services, and reinforcing the capabilities of the armed forces by supplying them with up-to-date equipment.
It is natural that our meeting addressed the issues in Sinai, the Syrian crisis and relations with neighbouring countries. However, the most important point discussed was the Ethiopian dam, where I sensed that the president prefers the use of “gentle force” to deal with the crisis; he was adamant that Egypt will not give up even one drop of its water.
The country has reached boiling point as the conflict intensifies between the government and opposition. The prospects of coexistence between the two sides have diminished alongside an increase in what can best be called media and political incitement for another revolution or military coup.
The 30th June, when the “rebel” protests are due to kick-off, will be a test of the opposition’s strength and the extent of the government’s power and the its ability, as well as its supporters’ ability, to exercise restraint. All we can do is wait.
The author is editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi. This article is a translation of the Arabic text first published in Al Quds Al Arabi on 7 June, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.