Can Egypt’s opposition overcome divisions?

It remains to be seen if the unity shown against recent presidential decrees will remain in the months ahead.

Tahrir Square sees return of protesters
Thousands joined Tuesday's demonstration in Cairo's famed Tahrir Square [AFP]

Cairo, Egypt – As tens of thousands of protesters gathered for yet another demonstration in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, many remain concerned over issues which keep the opposition fundamentally divided.
At least 22 different factions, representing a varety of ideological and political backgrounds took to Cairo’s famous square – for a second time in less than a week – to demonstrate against the recent decrees issued by President Mohamed Morsi, in which he assumed sweeping powers over both legislative and executive branches.
On Tuesday, the demonstration included those involved from the beginning in Egypt’s 2011 revolution – liberals and secular groups – alongside many who were seen as being supportive of the Mubarak regime, as well as groups who were first regarded as pro-revolution and who then supported the military’s leadership of the country.
All opposition factions are now rallying under the same slogan; no negotiation and no talks until Morsi takes back his decrees. Yet achieving this may lead the opposition to fracture yet again, say analysts.
Remaining unified?
The issue lies with whether or not the opposition can remain unified against the Muslim Brotherhood, a single entity already in possession of a very specific stance.
“It is true that there is a mish-mash of different groups together in Tahrir, and the felool [remnants of the old regime] are mobilising there too,” said Hossam al Hamlawy, a prominent leftist activist. “There are definitely people within the opposition camp who are willing to coordinate with them, and this has created an unease with others.”
For Hamlawy, the opposition has passed through at least three phases before reaching the point in which they stand today; during the revolution, after the revolution, and following the elections.
“During the revolution there was an alliance between the revolutionaries and the Muslim Brotherhood, for example,” he said. “Before the elections, you had liberals who supported decisions made by the army against protesters and strikes.
“Now, after the elections, there are different reference points, and a redrawing of the political map along the lines of liberals versus Islamists, under the general slogan of ‘freedom’.
“The problem is that now this opens the door for the felool, where people like [leftist leader] Hamdeen Sabahi is uniting and holding hands with Amr Moussa [Egypt’s former foreign minister under Mubarak],” Hamlawy said.
“After what Morsi did, more notorious figures are coming out and asking for independence for the judiciary… sooner or later Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud [the recently sacked General Prosecutor] will come out as a hero. This is seriously wrong.”
Amr Hamzawy, an opposition politician and a former MP, disagreed that the opposition was “fractured”, saying this was an idea propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood to paint the opposition as weak.
“This is a completely distorted presentation of the opposition,” he said. “It is still the same forces who are rallying against the army and the old regime, and they are all united in bringing down the constitutional declaration.”
“This distortion is coming from the Islamists, who are trying to portray us as if we have no substance.”
‘We are not afraid’
Crowds in Tahrir alternated their chants between “Leave, Leave, Mohammad Morsi”, “Shave your beard, show your shame, your face is the same as Mubarak”, and “We are not afraid of the Islamists”.
Nagi Willem, a finance director from Cairo, admitted this time around was more difficult for the opposition than the revolution of 2011, and that protesters should be wary, in the long term, of who was jumping on the bandwagon.
“As long as, on a short term basis, we have the same goal, then it doesn’t bother me so much,” he said, referring to the ad-hoc partnership of the opposition with former Mubarak supporters. “But if they do the same as the Muslim Brotherhood did with us during the revolution, then it will be a problem.”
“We are of course concerned the felool will hijack this, and so we need to be smarter on how we handle the situation.”
For Willem, the biggest concern is what happens after these protests. “After Mubarak fell, there were a lot of conflicts of interest, and that is likely to happen again once this settles down,” he said. “As an opposition we lack political organisation.”
Esat Amin, a 36-year-old Egyptian, was matter-of-fact when discussing a probable divide within the opposition following the string of protests.
“We will divide again,” he said. “But this is a long process, [in] which we can only succeed and mature with through more struggle.”
His take on the switching of partnerships as the months pass was more pragmatic. “I’m not so bothered about the felool being here – Mubarak is in jail now,” he said. “We have to be friends with them, we should not be enemies with them.”
And former Mubarak supporters were very much present at Tuesday’s protests, keen to be part of what they deemed to be an ongoing revolution calling for justice and freedom.
Katrina Aatif, a tourism sector worker, said she had supported Mubarak because he had guaranteed security and stability, and “this is necessary for my job”.
“Today, Morsi’s decisions have brought us together with the opposition, and united us,” she said. “I am against the Muslim Brotherhood, and I don’t want an Islamist state.”
While admitting there were still many issues within the opposition which need to be ironed out, her primary concern remains the lack of leadership.
“The opposition does not have a real leader to rally around,” she said. “This is not a matter of choice, we need to find someone in order to move forward.”
Unpopular allegiances
Top political leaders within the opposition see their newfound alliances as necessary to move forward.
Yasser Ali, spokesperson for Hamdeen Sabahi, explained there was still a long way to go for the revolution, which is “being led by the people, not by individuals”.
“The opposition figures are behind the revolutionary movement,” he said. “It is the people who are leading the revolution. This is not a political opposition.”
Acknowledging that certain allegiances within his faction have been seen as unpopular, Ali said: “We were the first to recognise Amr Moussa as an influential effective public symbol… Yes, there are a lot of people who are against this, but Morsi had Mubarak supporters involved in the constitutional drafting committee.”
To Morsi, he said: “You cannot accuse us of uniting with felool after you yourself sat and received them in the presidential palace.”
For Hamlawy, these alliances will only serve to weaken the goal of the opposition, and thus the revolution.
“For me, and I belong to the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists, we chant against the felool and Amr Moussa, and we are calling on people to kick out the felool,” he said. “We are not going to leave the square for the felool.”

Source: Al Jazeera