It was not supposed to turn out this way: Only a year after Egyptians freely elected Mohamed Mursi as their president for a four-year term, he was removed by a military decree. This sets in motion a “road map” for a new transitional period leading to another experiment akin to the period following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The ambivalence was hard to miss. The sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque, Egypt’s storied and influential institution, was there to lend legitimacy to the military decree. But his words told the story. He was compelled by sharia, he said, to choose the lesser of two evils in supporting early elections. But the ambivalence of the thousands of liberals who joined together in the protests at Tahrir Square and other public squares was even greater.
Many had chanted only months ago against military rule. Some had even voted for Mursi because they felt that his opponent Ahmad Shafik was Mubarak’s man. This is not where they wanted to be — but here they were in the millions with some of Shafik’s supporters. Most are not jubilant; they are relieved but worried.
They know what they don’t want. But do they know what they want or do they even all want the same thing?
This, in a way, is the story of the entire Arab uprisings that started in 2010: They are at the core manifestation of new public empowerment that’s here to stay in the Middle East and North Africa. But the public was never of the same mind. In Egypt, for example, the public polarization, especially between Islamists and secularists, was hard to miss.