Looking from afar, Egypt may seem to many as a country deeply divided between two entrenched political camps, with no political forces in between.
The escalating political tension and growing conflict between Egypt's strong religious and secularist political forces is indeed overwhelming. Yet, like any other country, Egypt has its own critical bloc that tries to avoid polarisation, focusing on non-partisan interests, while shifting between major political camps in a search for common ground.
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And, in a deeply divided country such as Egypt, staying politically neutral can be both difficult and costly. Deep polarisation makes it hard for any voice to deviate from either side of the dominant political rhetoric, as critical voices become vilified by all groups.
Still, Egypt's critical voices could be credited for major political shifts in the country before and since the January 2011 revolution. They were at the nucleus of the youth groups that triggered the uprising and went to the streets long before groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and traditional secularist parties joined. They were the ones who first called on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) - which seized power from long-time leader President Hosni Mubarak - to retreat from politics and hand power to a civilian government, providing moral and political cover for the protests that helped end overt military rule.
They also supported Mohamed Morsi in his presidential campaign against Ahmed Shafiq, who was seen as a remnant of the old regime. Their support may even have been enough to win the presidential poll for Morsi, who won with just 51 percent of the vote. They later became disenchanted with Morsi’s rule after he failed to achieve many of the major demands of the revolution, such as the reforming of Egypt's police. Their withdrawal of support for Morsi was critical to his eventual ousting.
The group revolves around youth movements such as April 6 and “We are all Khalid Said” - and around former Muslim Brotherhood youth leaders, who resigned from the group complaining of its rigid leadership and partisan politics. These former Brotherhood youths have rallied around Al Tayar Al Masry ["The Egyptian Current"], a political party still under construction, and the Strong Egypt Party, led by former presidential candidate and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moen Aboul Fotouh.
The bloc also has a leftist component, represented by “the socialist revolutionaries”, a group of young socialist activists who focus on labour rights and social justice, but distance themselves from the hardline secular attitudes taken by old socialist elites, who often found it impossible to co-operate with religious groups for ideological rather than political reasons.
Disenchantment and calls for resignation
Such critical voices are also represented by several intellectuals, increasingly disenchanted with the role of the military after either tacitly or vocally supporting Morsi's overthrow.
Moataz Abdel Fatah, a political science professor at Cairo University, could be seen as one such intellectual. He worked as an adviser to the first prime minister after the revolution and was a member of the committee that wrote Egypt's 2012 constitution. His independent voice won him both praise and criticism.
But his lambasting of Morsi in recent months has put him firmly in the firing line of the religious camp.
Still, he wrote on July 28 in El-Watan, warning of “a new revolutionary wave”.
“The June 30 revolution cannot go back on the goals of the January 25 revolution, including criminalising the police state, holding those politically corrupt accountable, rejecting the misuse of authority and power, and respecting basic human rights and freedoms," he wrote. "If we don't see before us strict commitment to the goals of the January 25 revolution, we will most probably witness a new revolutionary wave against the outcome of the June 30 revolution.”
The deaths of pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo on Friday night may have played a role in turning the tide of opinion in favour of the growing disenchantment with the interim administration. The killings brought wide-ranging condemnation and raised concerns about the direction of the country's new leadership, forcing some of its defenders to rethink their positions.
Hassan Nafeah, a political science professor at Cairo University, is a former supporter of President Morsi who came out in defence of his ousting - citing Morsi's political failures.
He wrote that he "welcomed" the call made by Abdul Fatah El-Sisi, Egypt's military chief, for people to give him a popular mandate to combat possible "violence and terrorism". Yet, Nafeah warned that support for military leader El-Sisi “is not a mandate to kill or to break the law”.
“The responsibility of protecting the security of the nation and citizens lies on the shoulders of the executive authority," he wrote. "When a large number of deaths takes place in political violence, as has happened, it is natural to consider it clear evidence of the failure of the government to fulfill its most important job.”
Belal Fadel, a political commentator known for his criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, has calledon General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to resign - along with Interim President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi - over the killing of protesters.
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"Whoever is in the seats of power should resign or courageously face his responsibilities and refer those responsible for the massacre to justice, regardless of who they are," he wrote. "Everyone should know that if he is lax in doing that, he will not escape justice - no matter what his position is - once the balance of power turns against him, as it turned against those who thought they were shielded from punishment."
Distortion and dehumanisation
Yet the deadly events of Friday and Saturday may not be the only reason behind growing criticism of the interim administration.
Amr Hamzawy, a leading member of the National Salvation Front, Egypt's main secular opposition group, has been complaining of “exclusivist fascism and dehumanisation of the Muslim Brotherhood and their religious allies… and militarisation of Egyptians' collective imagination”.
He fears an influential group within the anti-Muslim Brotherhood camp has gone too far in its campaign against the Brotherhood.
“Over the past few weeks, they have demonised and cursed any voice that demanded to hold accountable those who shed blood and engaged in corruption and authoritarianism," he wrote. Such people should face "a transitional justice mechanism" that would not differentiate between members of Mubarak's regime, Egypt's military, Morsi's administration or those of the current interim leadership, he said.
"The voices demanding accountability, transitional justice, and reconciliation have been distorted and portrayed as Muslim Brotherhood sleeper-cells, and as suspicious groups who are agents of an American project working against the national interest.” Hamzaway wrote.
Other analysts have also complained that the interim government seems too partisan and weak, fearing the powerful military is still "pulling the strings" behind the scenes.
“We have a prime minister who seems to be [too focused on] protocol," wrote political science professor Ahmed Abd Rabuh. "He delegated his authorities and powers to three deputies at the same time; A deputy for economic affairs, another for political matters, and a third for defence and national security issues. But, the third man is the one who carved the current path. He manages a powerful institution [the military], owned by the people - but that has wide economic independence and controls, in reality, the country's destiny - as its men are spread all over Egypt.”
In response, some activists have been organising people on the ground around a new movement - neither aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood nor with the interim administration. They named it “The Third Square”.
A flyer used by the group to call for protests states that “Egyptian people are not and will not be one bloc. [Egyptian people are] diverse, pluralistic, and include different and contradicting groups. [The Third Square] is against excluding any bloc in favour of others for any reason.”
Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a journalist and online activist who has so far attended two protests organised by the group, told Al Jazeera that a “very few people attended. A few dozen. And they were cursed and insulted by people passing by".
"It reminded me of the early days of protests that led to the ousting of Mubarak," he said. "We were a very small minority belittled by the people, and we are back to the same situation again."
Mahmoud said the difficult political transition that Egypt has been going through, coupled with the many mistakes of those in power - including the Muslim Brotherhood - along with ongoing social polarisation, has pushed many to give up on the revolution and its ideals.
“Many want stability," he said. "They want to live without political problems, crises, or even stands."
Still, Mahmoud remains cautiously optimistic for the future.
"Change will come," he said. "Revolutions are like snowballs. They start with a few people speaking up - when everyone else is silent and sees them as crazy.”
Follow Alaa Bayoumi on Twitter: @Alaabayoumi