By the Millions, Egyptians Seek Morsi’s Ouster
By David D. Kirkpatrick, Kareem Fahim and Ben Hubbard, NY Times, July 1, 2013
CAIRO—Millions of Egyptians streamed into the streets of cities across the country on Sunday and many stayed outdoors overnight to demand the ouster of their first elected head of state, President Mohamed Morsi, in an outpouring of anger at the political dominance of his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Early on Monday, attackers stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood here after hours of clashes with armed Brotherhood members trapped inside the darkened building. Those inside fired bursts of birdshot at the attackers and wounded several of them.
After pelting the almost-empty building for hours with stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks, the attackers doused the logo atop the building in kerosene and set it on fire, seeming to throw what appeared to be sandbags used to fortify the windows out onto the street.
It was not immediately clear what became of the Brotherhood members, but shortly before the building was stormed, armored government vehicles were seen in the area, possibly as part of an evacuation team.
After dawn broke Monday, some demonstrators remained in Tahrir Square, resting under impromptu shelters. While much of the protest elsewhere in Cairo seemed peaceful, activists reported dozens of sexual assaults on women in Tahrir Square overnight.
The scale of the demonstrations, just one year after crowds in the same square cheered Mr. Morsi’s inauguration, appeared to exceed even the mass street protests in the heady final days of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. At a moment when Mr. Morsi is still struggling to control the bureaucracy and just beginning to build public support for painful economic reforms, the protests have raised new hurdles to his ability to lead the country as well as new questions about Egypt’s path to stability.
Clashes between Mr. Morsi’s opponents and supporters broke out in several cities around the country, killing at least seven people—one in the southern town of Beni Suef, four in the southern town of Assiut and two in Cairo—and injuring hundreds. Protesters ransacked Brotherhood offices around the country.
Demonstrators said they were angry about the lack of public security, the desperate state of the Egyptian economy and an increase in sectarian tensions. But the common denominator across the country was the conviction that Mr. Morsi had failed to transcend his roots in the Brotherhood, an insular Islamist group officially outlawed under Mr. Mubarak that is now considered Egypt’s most formidable political force.
Shadi Hamid, a researcher at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar who studies the Muslim Brotherhood closely, said: “The Brotherhood underestimated its opposition.” He added: “This is going to be a real moment of truth for the Brotherhood.”
Mr. Morsi and Brotherhood leaders have often ascribed much of the opposition in the streets to a conspiracy led by Mubarak-era political and financial elites determined to bring them down, and they have resisted concessions in the belief that the opposition’s only real motive is the Brotherhood’s defeat. But no conspiracy can bring millions to the streets, and by Sunday night some analysts said the protests would send a message to other Islamist groups around the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
"It is a cautionary note: Don’t be too eager for power, and try to think how you do it," Mr. Hamid said, faulting the Egyptian Brotherhood for seeking to take most of the power for itself all at once. "I hear concern from Islamists around the region about how the Brotherhood is tainting Islamism."
Mr. Morsi’s administration appeared caught by surprise. “There are protests; this is a reality,” Omar Amer, a spokesman for the president, said at a midnight news conference. “We don’t underestimate the scale of the protests, and we don’t underestimate the scale of the demands.” He said the administration was open to discussing any demands consistent with the Constitution, but he also seemed exasperated, sputtering questions back at the journalists. “Do you have a better idea? Do you have an initiative?” he asked. “Suggest a solution and we’re willing to consider it seriously.”
Many vowed to stay in the streets until Mr. Morsi resigned. Some joked that it should be comparatively easy: Just two years ago, Egyptian protesters toppled a more powerful president, even though he controlled a fearsome police state. But there is no legal mechanism to remove Mr. Morsi until the election of a new Parliament, expected later this year, and even some critics acknowledge that forcing the first democratically elected president from power would set a precedent for future instability.