If millions of Americans had flooded the country’s streets on November 4, 2009, to protest President Obama’s failed first year in office, what would the Democratic Party have posted on its website? Statements blaming the protests on the Bush administration? Excerpts from a rambling two and a half hour speech Obama recently delivered? A warning for Americans to be careful what they wish for?
Probably not. But in Egypt, the ruling Freedom and Justice Party has posted almost exactly that. On Sunday Egyptians took to the streets in numbers even larger than the revolutionary 2011 uprisings. There they protested the failing state of Egypt’s security, economy and politics. But, above all, they called for President Mohamed Morsi to step down.
A visitor to the Freedom and Justice Party’s website, however, wouldn’t realize that Morsi’s resignation is the protesters’ central demand. The English language version of the site featured seven stories on July 1, all of which distort the character of the current uprisings. The website’s first story, for example, publicizes a statement made by Freedom and Justice Party Vice-chairman Essam Erian, in which he paints the protests as the end of a clash between Egyptians trying to establish “a constitutional democratic civil state based on Islamic law” and the “corrupt elitist tyrants” of the Mubarak regime. Had website visitors first heard about the protests through Erian’s statement, they would have been shocked to learn that Tamarrod–a grassroots campaign of independent activists and not former members of the autocratic Mubarak regime–initiated the uprising.
Reality is similarly distorted through another post that translates a speech by the National Alliance in Support of Electoral Legitimacy. Formed last Friday, the alliance is a pro-Morsi coalition consisting of eleven Islamist parties. Its speech mourned the “eight martyrs killed by thugs hired by the ousted National Democratic Party (NDP), and their allies the National Salvation Front (NSF) and Rebel movement” in the violent lead-up to Sunday’s protests. Though the alliance was right to mourn the Egyptians’ tragic deaths, they were wrong about the facts. The “rebel movement” that started the protests began as an independent signature collecting campaign and not as an alliance between Mubarak’s former party and the National Salvation Front. And, while several protesters have died this week, media outlets report that Islamists and anti-Morsi protesters alike perpetrated the violence.
The party’s Arabic website isn’t any better. Yesterday it posted an article entitled “Imaginary Protests in Downtown Cairo and the Streets of Giza,” which reported that cars drove through the streets playing recordings of protests to encourage greater participation. The article added that observers felt “anger and astonishment” at the protesters’ “attempt to rile up the street and delude citizens who preferred to stay at home,” but didn’t quote any Egyptians expressing these views. A question for the Freedom and Justice Party: is this what an imaginary protest looks like?
“We defend democracy” claims a Freedom and Justice Party statement posted alongside a photograph of Egyptian masses holding up their nation’s flag in protest. But if defending democracy means supporting a president who claimed massive presidential power, issued a repressive NGO law, and shocked the Egyptian public with governor appointments, then the Freedom and Justice party’s perception of democracy is seriously distorted. Just as distorted, perhaps, as its take on the “imaginary” protests in its website’s posts. With a ruling party out of touch not only with the demands of large segments of the people but also with the reality of its nation, it is not surprising that millions of Egyptians are demanding change.
Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party should listen to the Egyptian people. In unprecedented numbers, Egyptians are demanding that the President step down. Even the military has advised Morsi to listen to the people’s demands, and has pledged to step in if he doesn’t. It’s time for the party to come to grips with reality and relinquish the power Egyptians no longer want it to hold.