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Egypt: A People Divided

On the night of July 3, exactly 48 hours after General Abdul Fatah Sisi of the Special Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) gave President Morsi an ultimatum—either he listen to the demands of the protesters, or he resigns and the SCAF assumes an interim leadership—President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power. The army took over the leadership and high profile Muslim Brotherhood officials—including the former president—were arrested. For better or worse, Egypt is once again in democratic transition.

By all definitions of the word, this would be a military coup—the army ousts the political leadership and assumes a position of power. However, although the media is warming up to the use of the term, many Egyptians prefer the term “regime change” and have once again proclaimed the people and the army as acting as “one fist” in the Egyptian revolution.

Interestingly, the United States State Department, though it has admitted “concern” with the ensuing violence, has not admitted that the resulting actions constituted a coup. If it were to, according to international law it would have to suspend military aid to Egypt—which is the second largest recipient in the world, only after the Israeli Defense Forces. Suspending this aid could alter US and Egyptian relations with Israel, and perhaps more importantly, US control over the Suez canal—one of the most important trade routes in the world.

Still, not all Egyptians are celebrating; many are concerned with the military’s sudden seizing of power.  Remember not so long ago, when the SCAF not only took control of the political leadership, but attempted to permanently write themselves into the constitution. Still others were in favor of President Mohammed Morsi, and are now taking to the streets en masse to protest for his release and return to power and stability. This created tensions Monday morning when, in response to a pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in, several anti-government protesters stormed the headquarters of the Republican Guards resulting in violent clashes that killed 51 and left more than 300 injured.

While the SCAF attempted to disperse the crowd with teargas and sound grenades, eyewitnesses attest that armed thugs in civilian clothes committed the actual massacre.

In response to the massacre, the Muslim Brotherhood has ordered mass protests for the coming days. The interim government created a timetable for elections to happen in six months—but the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the timetable, claiming that it puts the country back to “point zero.”

It stands to reason that they are upset; the Muslim Brotherhood has struggled for meaningful political power in Egypt over the past 80 years; being ousted after only one year in power is not going down without a fight. However, over the past week their opposition has demonstrated that they are not only mobilized, but not afraid to resort to violence to save their “revolution.”

As the uprisings and protests become clashes and massacres, it becomes even more apparent how deep the divisions are in Egyptian society. Although the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted, they are still a massive political force in Egypt, which is now even more mobilized in the wake of their opposition. Although these same protesters protested alongside one another two and a half years ago for the end of the Mubarak regime, they are now at odds with one another as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood created divisions in a society once united against dictatorship, dreaming of a more abstract vision of democracy. But in practice, these images of a united Tahrir Square that once spurred the revolution are no more—instead, the country braces for more violence.