Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi have their backs to the wall

Warnings of a coup and the death of democracy come from senior Muslim Brotherhood members and advisers of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Nariman El-Mofty/AP
A military helicopter flies over the presidential palace as opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi protest in Cairo, Wednesday, July 3.

It's been about an hour since the Egyptian military's deadline for President Mohamed Morsi to calm the situation came and went and no word yet from the generals. Meanwhile, there are reports of troops moving in the streets, wild (and unsubstantiated) rumors of arrests of senior Muslim Brotherhood members, and jubilant, full-throated crowds in Tahrir Square and around the country demanding Morsi resign.

Morsi delivered a defiant national address last night in which he repeatedly insisted that only he had the democratic legitimacy to rule Egypt and offered not even a crumb of concession to his opponents – whose numbers on the streets now match, if not surpass, the crowds that led the military to abandon Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

But while Mr. Mubarak's power base largely lay in the support of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the bureaucracy he controlled, the Brotherhood remains the oldest and largest grassroots organization in Egypt. The movement's cadres delivered the presidency to Morsi, and he still has millions of stalwarts behind him.

Today, officials around Morsi and the Brotherhood appear to be gambling that they can face down the military with their own street power and by appealing to the democratic victory of an election held about a year ago. They keep referring to a military coup and hinting at the possibility of horrible bloodshed if events continue to unfold as they are. But any hopes that foreign powers like the US will line up to support them in response to this framing are fading fast.

This afternoon Essam al-Haddad, Morsi's national security adviser, issued a statement in English on his Facebook page that was both alarmist and alarming, framing the Brotherhood's political opponents as hell-bent on supporting a military coup and warning that the results will be global turmoil.

"As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page," he begins. "For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup."

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His alarm, from the Brotherhood's perspective, is not misplaced. For decades the organization's leaders endured jail and torture at the hands of military-backed regimes, and fear for their own fate if the military once again seizes power is natural. His statement also contains a warning, or perhaps a veiled threat, to both Egyptian opponents and the foreign community; that the very idea of democratic change will be discredited among devout Muslims the world over:

Today only one thing matters. In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?
I am fully aware of the Egyptian media that has already attempted to frame (the Brotherhood) for every act of violence that has taken place in Egypt since January 2011. I am sure that you are tempted to believe this. But it will not be easy.
There are still people in Egypt who believe in their right to make a democratic choice. Hundreds of thousands of them have gathered in support of democracy and the Presidency. And they will not leave in the face of this attack. To move them, there will have to be violence. It will either come from the army, the police, or the hired mercenaries. Either way there will be considerable bloodshed. And the message will resonate throughout the Muslim World loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.

I do not need to explain in detail the worldwide catastrophic ramifications of this message. In the last week there has been every attempt to issue a counter narrative that this is just scaremongering and that the crushing of Egypt’s nascent democracy can be managed.

Mr. Haddad also took a veiled swipe at the US and others as hypocrites, and insisted the course should be stayed until the next regularly scheduled presidential election (four years from now).

"In the last year we have been castigated by foreign governments, foreign media, and rights groups whenever our reforms in the areas of rights and freedoms did not keep pace with the ambitions of some or adhere exactly to the forms used in other cultures," he writes. "The silence of all of those voices with an impending military coup is hypocritical and that hypocrisy will not be lost on a large swathe of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims. Many have seen fit in these last months to lecture us on how democracy is more than just the ballot box. That may indeed be true. But what is definitely true is that there is no democracy without the ballot box."

The organized Egyptian opposition, the National Salvation Front among them, are in fact calling for fresh elections, and complain that the way Egypt's flawed constitution was rushed through by Morsi and his allies, with hardly any input from broader Egyptian society, was hardly democratic. They certainly seem to want the military to step in – but that's for what they hope is a stewardship role to fresh elections, a fresh constitutional process, and some way to guide Egypt from its current impasse.

He isn't the only one with those kinds of warnings. This afternoon, Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party spokesman Gehad al-Haddad expressed his own alarm in a series of tweets. After sharing the NSA's Facebook post he wrote

Followed by:

There has been no specific threat of violence, and the Brotherhood insists their counter-protests are and will remain peaceful. But every indication is they're not leaving without a fight, of one kind or another.

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