Sunday marked the one year anniversary since Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s inauguration, and by all accounts it was a historic and at times chaotic day. In fact, as many as 500,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square alone to protest the government, demanding the country’s first democratically elected president step down from power.
This was the biggest uprising since the so-called “Arab Spring” protests two years ago, according to Reuters, when the Egyptian people successfully helped oust Mursi’ predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, from entrenched, decades-long rule:
"The people want the fall of the regime!" they shouted, echoing the Arab Spring rallying cry that brought down Mubarak - this time yelling it not against an ageing dictator but against the first elected leader in Egypt's 5,000-year recorded history.
Huge protest rallies continued late into the night in a mostly festive atmosphere. ...
A military source said as many as 14 million people in this nation of 84 million took part in Sunday's demonstrations in sweltering heat. There was no independent way to verify that estimate, which seemed implausibly high, but the armed forces used helicopters to monitor the crowds.
So why, exactly, were tens of millions of Egyptians calling for Mursi’s immediate removal? A few different reasons, it seems:
Many demonstrators bellowed their anger at the Brotherhood, which they accuse of hijacking Egypt's revolution and using electoral victories to monopolize power and impose Islamic law.
Others, including some who said they had voted for Mursi, have been alienated by a deepening economic crisis and worsening personal security, aggravated by a political deadlock over which he has presided.
The veteran leaders of Egypt's secular, liberal and left-wing opposition, including former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, joined protest marches in Cairo.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, Egypt's second city, and large protests were reported in at least 20 towns around the country.
Sadly, unemployment in Egypt has exceeded 13 percent -- and eight out of 10 under 30-year-olds can’t find jobs. Economic opportunity is evidently stagnant and poverty rates and lack of food are perennial problems that seem to be getting worse. Nonetheless, President Mursi has no intention of stepping down -- at least anytime soon:
In his interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Mursi repeated accusations that what he sees as entrenched interests from the Mubarak era are plotting to foil his attempt to govern. He dismissed the demands that he give up and resign.
If that became the norm, he said, "well, there will be people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down".
Liberal leaders say nearly half the voting population - 22 million people - has signed a petition calling for new elections, although there is no obvious challenger to Mursi.
Early reports indicate that as many as five people were murdered and hundreds more were injured. And, perhaps not surprisingly, dozens of women were reportedly sexually assaulted and threatened with violence in Tahrir Square as well.
President Obama, meanwhile, has “called for dialogue” and beefed up security at U.S. diplomatic posts in the region. He has also removed non-essential U.S. personnel from the country, according to Reuters.
UPDATE - The next two days are going to be interesting:
Egypt's military on Monday issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Islamist president and his opponents to reach an agreement to "meet the people's demands" or it will intervene to put forward a political road map for the country and ensure it is carried out.
The ultimatum, it said, was a "last chance."
It described the mass protests on Sunday that brought out millions of Egyptians demanding President Mohammed Morsi's ouster as "glorious." It said protesters expressed their opinion "in peaceful and civilized manner," and that "it is necessary that the people get a reply ... to their calls."
UPDATE II - The death toll continues to climb (via CNN):
At least 16 people were killed and more than 780 were wounded Sunday and Monday during the unrest in Egypt, the nation's health minister said, according to the official Egypt News agency.