The main issues behind Egypt’s political stalemate that threatens to spiral into more violence:
Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, including members of his Muslim Brotherhood, are rallying behind the motto of “Return of legitimacy,” referring to his reinstatement as Egypt’s first freely elected leader. He was overthrown in a military coup on July 3 after only a year in office following mass protests that called for his ouster. His supporters also want the restoration of the constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel, as well as the Shura Council — the upper chamber of parliament, which was dissolved.
In public, the group shows no flexibility in striking any deals or giving up any of its demands. However, insiders say the Islamists are focused on securing a political future and are pushing for the release of its top leaders from detention.
The powerful military introduced a fast-track timetable for the return of democratic rule and has vowed not to make any changes to it. A 10-member panel is to propose amendments to 2012 constitution, a second panel of 50 members will be formed to finalize constitutional amendments. After a referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections are to take place in early 2014.
Morsi’s group rejects the road map. Supporting it are liberal, secular-leaning youth groups; Christians; A;-Azhar, the oldest seat of Islamic teaching; and Al-Nour, an ultraconservative Islamist party.
There are two main protest camps where sit-ins are underway in Cairo. The largest, set up in late June, is at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in the eastern part of the capital. It has grown into a tent city housing nearly 20,000 protesters. A smaller one in in Giza, near Cairo University. The government issued several warnings that it will move to clear the protest camps. Privately, the protesters say that the sit-in is their last bargaining chip.
The government accuses the Rabaah group of storing weapons in the camp and using women and children as human shields. Human rights groups have documented cases of political opponents being tortured to death by protesters in or near the camps. They also warn of a bloodbath if force is used to clear them.
Morsi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. Several other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have been detained, including deputy leader Khairat el-Shater, on charges of instigating violence. Also detained is Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, an influential ultraconservative cleric and former presidential candidate.
The group wants its leaders freed and seeks assurances that authorities won’t go after those who are being sought and apparently taking refuge in the Rabaah camp. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 but later banned, and its leaders were executed in the 1950s and 1960s under President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. It fears a similar scenario today.
Egypt’s interim leaders appear determined to ban any political parties that have deep ties to religious groups and to increase scrutiny of where groups like the Brotherhood get their financial support. This would threaten the future influence of the Brotherhood, which was built with grass roots support on the basis of bringing Islam into politics.