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Egypt's 'rebels' gather millions of signatures to protest Morsi

Hassan Amar/AP

An Egyptian activist covers her face with the petition for "Tamarod," Arabic for "rebel," a campaign calling for 15 million signatures expressing "no confidence" in Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and calling for early presidential elections, during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on May 17.

CAIRO – Once again, a handful of activists has managed to galvanize and inspire Egypt’s grumbling masses in a way no opposition political parties have been able to.

Their concept is simple. They are inviting the Egyptian electorate to sign a petition expressing “no confidence” in President Mohamed Morsi, a move they hope will trigger early presidential elections.

The response has been eye-opening. So far, 6,000 volunteers for the grassroots campaign dubbed “Tamarod” or “Rebel” have collected over 2 million signatures, according to the group’s spokesman Mahmoud Badr. Egypt’s electorate numbers about 50 million, with half of those voting in the last presidential election.

The movement has grown quickly, with opposition parties announcing support, widespread press coverage and black and white leaflets plastered across nearly every Cairo neighborhood. The “Rebel” Facebook page has attracted 150,000 “likes” in one month.

At a busy intersection in Mohandiseen, an upper-middle class Cairo neighborhood, at least 20 people stopped last Thursday to sign the leaflets and jot down national ID numbers to verify their identity.

Mohamed Muslemany / NBC News

Egyptian volunteer Basma Sherif, 24, hands out 'Rebel' petitions calling for no confidence in President Morsi and calling for early elections.

“Yesterday was even more crowded,” said Basma Sherif, as she handed out forms.

“There were accidents because people were leaving their cars in traffic to come and sign,” said Sherif, a 24-year-old insurance company employee. 

People from all walks of life and throughout Egypt are signing the petition – from upper class educated elites to truck drivers and housekeepers – even people who voted for Morsi in the last election are now taking part in the campaign.

"People come from the cars to sign – poor, rich, middle class, everybody has one opinion,” said Sherif.

Those signing the petition were anxious for change. “I don’t want Morsi,” said Khaled Mostafa, a 27-year-old lab technician.  “There is no security, no stability and their economic program failed… If we get several million signatures, we will have early elections.” 

Amal Ragab, a middle-aged human resources manager, said that the revolution that toppled Mubarak made her believe people have the power to bring down a president.  “For us, the Muslim Brotherhood is much worse and weaker than Mubarak with all of his power and security apparatus,” she added. 

The group’s goal is to collect 15 million signatures, almost 3 million more than the number of votes Morsi received when he was elected by a narrow margin in June last year. They plan to deliver the petition for early elections to the Supreme Constitutional Court, Egypt’s highest court, on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration, and to hold a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace that day. 

A symbolic move
But even diehard supporters admit there are no legal grounds to call for early elections based on a “no confidence” petition. They say the campaign is really meant to prove that Morsi has lost his majority and, with it, his legitimacy.   

Hamza Abdullah, a 37-year-old lawyer who has been coordinating the campaign in three Cairo districts was carrying an armload of signed petitions on Thursday. 

“This is a peaceful way to apply pressure and prove that people are against Morsi,” he said. “It is not legally binding, but it is like a poll to prove that he is not popular and not approved as president of Egypt.” 

Oliver Weiken/EPA

Protesters call for the removal of the Egyptian government in Tahrir Square in Cairo on May 17.

Not so fast, say Muslim Brotherhood 
Members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, however, pooh-pooh the challenge.

Dr. Mohamed Beltagy, a senior leader of the Brotherhood’s political arm, issued a statement calling the petition “no more than a public survey,” saying it was useless unless organizers “transform the millions of participants they’re talking about into a political party.” 

Others gave veiled warnings. “If some want to toss out the constitution, then they should admit their aim and bear the consequences because it is a complete and utter crime,” Essam Arian, deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, told the Al Fajr newspaper. 

A lawyer for the Brotherhood, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud, said that, “Hijacking a political democratic legitimacy constitutes a violation of the law.” And one Brotherhood-linked group launched a rhyming pro-Morsi petition called Tagarod, or “Impartiality.”  

Egypt’s prime minister, which operates under the president, was more receptive.

Alaa al Hadidi, the prime minister’s spokesman, said he views the grassroots movement as a sign of growth.  “I am happy because before, nobody spoke, nobody cared, nobody was interested.  Now everybody feels that they own the country and have a stake.” 

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