Egypt's New Rule

Egypt's elected president is felled by mass demonstrations. Can a democracy be run by protest?

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Photograph by Yuri Kozyrev-Noor for TIME; Color treated by TIME

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As it happened, just such a demonstration was in the works. In April, a small group of young activists launched a signature campaign for a petition that listed a litany of complaints. Addressed to Morsi, it read: "Because the streets remain insecure, we don't want you. Because the poor still have no place, we don't want you ..." The campaigners, who call their movement Tamarod, or "rebel," say there was no point in expecting change through parliamentary elections, scheduled for later this year, because the Brotherhood had fashioned the electoral law. "All we could see of the future was the Brotherhood getting around the mechanisms of democracy," says Mamdouh Badr, 27, a Tamarod supporter. "Egyptians have the right to choose how they operate their democracy."

As the petition campaign gained momentum, Morsi seemed intent on spurring it along. On June 15, he abruptly severed ties to Syria, casting the move in a sectarian light by announcing it at a rally for a conference of Sunni clerics where the speaker immediately preceding Morsi referred to "nonbelievers who must be killed." The next day, Morsi appointed as governor of Luxor a member of the Islamic Group, which once killed Coptic Christians, police and, most notably, 58 foreign tourists in a notorious 1997 massacre at the ancient site.

On June 29, Tamarod announced it had 22 million signatures--7 million more than its target. Though unconfirmed, the tally was far more than had voted for Morsi last year. It was time to go back to the streets.

The numbers joining the protests--most observers agree they ran into the millions--stunned everyone. No less striking, the crowds now called on the military to oust the President--the same military many had rallied against just over a year earlier. Emboldened, the military issued Morsi an ultimatum on July 1, giving him 48 hours to come to an understanding with his opponents. The President responded with a defiant speech, and the military's answer--vowing to protect Egypt "against any terrorist, radical or fool"--set the stage for Morsi's arrest the next day. Al-Sisi made the announcement flanked by the civil-society leaders he had invited to lunch six months earlier: former U.N. official and liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of al-Azhar University, the Pope of the Coptic Church and an official of the Nour Party. "May God save Egypt," the general said, "and the honorable, defiant people of Egypt."

Old Order, New Hope

Defiant is the word. "I think this is the only thing Egyptians can do right now," says one liberal activist. "Remove regimes." Will they be satisfied with who or what takes Morsi's place? The litany of complaints in Tamarod's petition lies in wait for the new authorities. Unemployment has climbed 50% since before the Arab Spring, hard-currency reserves have halved, and the budget deficit has doubled. Tourism hasn't fully recovered from the revolution two years ago, and the latest upheaval will spook potential visitors anew.

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