A make or break moment for Egypt's President Morsi

The first anniversary of the president's inauguration is expected to spark nationwide protests. The grassroots campaign Tamarod aims to secure enough signatures to a vote-of-no-confidence petition to outweigh the 13 million votes that brought Morsi into p

Egypt is steeling itself in the run-up to nationwide protests against beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi on the first anniversary of his inauguration.

Sunday's demonstrations, which organisers claim will "make or break" the Muslim Brotherhood president, are spearheaded by a grassroots campaign Tamarod, meaning "rebel". It aims to secure enough signatures to a vote-of-no-confidence petition to outweigh the 13 million votes that brought Morsi into power.

Tamarod say they have already collected at least 18 million, and will present them to Morsi.

As tensions rise, rumours abound that the army may intervene, just one year after handing power to a civilian chief.  Defense Minster Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi cryptically said Sunday that the military "stayed out of political matters" but has a duty to "prevent Egypt slipping into a dark tunnel."

Meanwhile the police, historically hostile to the Brotherhood, vowed to protect state institutions but not the group's headquarters, which have recently been targeted in firebomb attacks.

Tamarod spokesperson Eman El-Haghy tells the New Statesman confidently that they will call on the head of the Constituent Assembly to be interim president. "The president has dragged our country backwards… he has not fulfilled the revolution's goals."

Tamarod say political forces will choose a transitional president and technocratic government to draft a constitution before elections: a tough call for an opposition that critics say hasn't united around anything except dislike of the Brotherhood.

Nevertheless the mounting anger against Morsi is significant.

"I don't think it gets more serious than this," says Hisham Hellyer, Cairo-based non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute.

"He doesn’t have even have a monopoly on the Islamist trend, the different [ultraconservative] Salafi parties are not deserting him but they are getting there. The more left-leaning Islamist parties are joining protests."

Certainly the non-Islamist faction who backed Morsi during elections - largely to block his rival, Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq - are now organising demonstrations.  The National Salvation Front, Egypt's largest opposition bloc, has meanwhile rejected any dialogue.

Protesters are demanding "bread, freedom and social justice," the same grievances they voiced during the revolution.

Egypt suffers from a flailing economy; bread, water and fuel crises; and a brutal police force which hasn't been held to account. Many say the recently-ratified Constitution was hastily drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.

Basic rights continue to be violated.

According to Human Rights Watch, bloggers and journalists are increasingly being prosecuted for "insulting" officials. State torture remains endemic; defamation and blasphemy prosecutions are increasing.

"The economy is not doing well," says Ahmed Galal, Director of Cairo-based Economic Research Forum.  "The budget deficit is growing, and there is sluggish economic growth at a time of growing unemployment."

Continued unrest and no political consensus means foreign investment has dried up, Galal adds. "Most of Egypt's economic problems would be resolved if a political settlement is reached." Something Morsi has yet to do.

Hellyer says the president also picked fights with institutions like the interior ministry and judiciary "without correct political support."

One embarrassing example was when the High Constitutional Court rejected the electoral law last month, meaning Egypt won't have a parliament until 2014, even though the president had already called elections.

Morsi himself faces direct judicial challenges: Shafiq is appealing the results of last year's presidential poll.

Even the Brotherhood admits expectations have not been met.

"The first year has been much more troublesome than we had expected," says Gehad El-Haddad, an advisor to the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, adding that the government's performance has not been "optimum".

State institutions, El-Haddad says, are the problem. "They are unprofessional and corrupt and actually challenge the president's initiatives."

El-Haddad also maintains that the media distort Morsi's record. Despite the hype, he believes there isn't widespread demand for Morsi's resignation.

Hellyer says Sunday's protests, if successful, are dangerous. "The propensity for violence would increase. It's very bad for the story for Egyptian democracy, as it says that government can be thrown out after a year."

"The only way Morsi leaves is by the military forcing him out, which involves violence and social disorder." Clashes have already broken out in several governorates in the lead up.

Activists maintain they will keep their protests peaceful with marches "with people holding whistles and red cards to signify that it is game over," El-Haghy explains. There will also be protests outside Egyptian embassies in cities around the world - including New York and London.

"We told the world that 30 June, the day we gave him our vote, will be the day we withdraw our confidence."

Whether Morsi will exit the pitch early remains to be seen. 

A protest artist paints Tamarod or "Rebel" graffiti in downtown Cairo ahead of anniversary demos against the president. Photograph: Gregg Carlstrom
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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era