The demonstrations that began Sunday in Cairo, Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi have attracted “millions” of supporters and many counter-demonstrators as well, making the protest the largest political event in the history of the world, according to the BBC.
The protests in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt exceed those that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 in the key event of the Arab Spring. Two years later, after constitutional reforms and elections that saw Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood move to aggrandize their power, the public backlash is immense.
The demonstrations pose a puzzle for President Barack Obama, who was touring South Africa at the other end of the continent when the demonstrations began. In 2011, Obama initially supported Mubarak, then threw his weight behind the protests and reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood on its way to power.
The Obama administration, through Ambassador Anne Patterson, actively discouraged Sunday’s protests, as Breitbart News’ Kerry Picket reported last week. “Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs,” she said.
Delivering an address at the University of Cape Town on Sunday night that was billed as the highlight of his three-nation tour, Obama touted Africa’s movement towards democracy but did not mention the Cairo protests, and downplayed the U.S. intervention in Libya and the chaos that followed in its wake.
The Tahrir Square protests in Cairo bear echoes of recent protests in Turkey, as well as the “Cedar Revolution” that took place in Lebanon in 2005, and the “Green Revolution” of Iran in 2009, when citizens took to the streets to protest economic stagnation, religious oppression, and costly foreign entanglements.
Yet if the Cedar Revolution was partly inspired by the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the Green Revolution was partly inspired both by Iraq and the end of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, the new protests in Cairo and Istanbul seem endogenous, fueled by popular discontent at Islamist rule.
There are counter-demonstrations in Egypt, too, as Muslim Brotherhood activists have been able to mobilize thousands of their own followers in protests of support for Morsi. The Egyptian army, which may hold the balance of power, has yet to intervene–but could do so in an attempt to restore stability.