x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Did Morsi grasp what Egyptians were saying?

After the protests, Egypt's president now must make an important choice about his agenda and priorities.

Egyptians have spoken, with a loud clear voice. In their millions, in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere, people poured onto the streets on Sunday to denounce the government of Mohammed Morsi, their president for the past year.

Now it is up to Mr Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood- sponsored party and its allies, to respond to this roar from the people. How they react will determine which of two futures awaits Egypt.

The mass protests were, considering their size and the fever pitch of political emotion in the country, much less violent than many had feared. Pro-Brotherhood demonstrators had their own rallies, well clear of the main protest sites. The army showed restraint. The result: rallies that appeared to be much bigger than those against Hosni Mubarak in 2011 finished with a handful of deaths across the country, several hundred injuries, and a fire at a Brotherhood office building.

Then, most of the protesters went home. Some thousands of them, however, persisted in occupying Tahrir Square, Egypt's enduring icon of Arab Spring optimism, and certain other sites.

There is however a difference between this occupation of the Square and the 2011 version. Then, the protesters were denouncing a dictatorial government "chosen" in sham elections; now they are objecting to a president who was elected fairly.

But Mr Morsi has been astoundingly incapable, until now, of hearing his countrymen. As they have grown steadily more anxious about petrol shortages, bread prices, rubbish removal, jobs and the like, he and his allies have concentrated instead on tightening the Brotherhood's fist around ever more aspects of society.

Four ministers resigned yesterday, apparently in sympathy with the protesters. But unless Mr Morsi overreacts by repressing the continued protests, he now has a good chance to survive the Tamarrod rallies that many hoped would make Sunday his last day as president.

But can he now muster the will and the skill to attend to people's real problems, while acknowledging that Egypt should not and cannot be remade in the Brotherhood's image if Egyptians don't want this? This is a tall order; many in the Brotherhood will push him to persevere in Islamising the country.

Still, if he can change direction, then millions of Egyptians will feel that their protest has at least been heard. The focus of political activity will shift to the next legislative elections.

If however Mr Morsi and his faction insist on ignoring the message of Sunday, the next round of objections to his rule will surely not be so short-lived - or so peaceful.