Criticism Against Egypt's Opposition Coalition Grows

Critics say Egypt's umbrellas opposition group, the National Salvation Front, or NSF, is slowly becoming a national joke. Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square say the opposition leadership is trying to manipulate popular anger in order to gain power.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, you can't really have a democracy unless the people in power also have an opposition. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood holds the power.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There is a main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, but its critics say it is slowly becoming a national joke.

INSKEEP: In fact, protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square say the opposition leadership is trying to manipulate popular anger in order to gain power.

NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo sent us this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Neama Ahmed is mad.

NEAMA AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: She's angry at Egypt's Islamist president, who she feels is corrupt and uses the same brutal tactics as the dictator Egyptians ousted almost two years ago. But she's also enraged at the National Salvation Front, or NSF, that includes leaders like Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa.

AHMED: (Through translator) Every time President Mohammed Morsi tells them to come and talk, they refuse. And then when Morsi ignores him, they seek him out. They're seeking seats in the government. They don't represent us. They don't represent the Egyptian people.

FADEL: It's a sentiment expressed by many protesters in Tahrir Square and beyond.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

FADEL: The chants range from calls for the ouster of Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, to criticism of the opposition for failing to represent the people. Political figures blame each other for the chaos. The Brotherhood accuses the NSF of giving political cover to street violence, and the NSF says the Brotherhood's broken promises and failure to rule inclusively are the roots of the problem.

It is a vicious cycle, says Egypt expert Issandr El Amrani, who runs the influential Arabist blog.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: It was like a wider disillusionment or disenchantment, I think, among a lot of the revolutionaries with the political class as a whole, whether it's the opposition or the government.

FADEL: And the opposition leadership knows it's having some major problems with its supposed base. Over almost two weeks of protest and violence, the NSF has played a game of cat-and-mouse with the president, calling for the fall of the regime and refusing dialogue with the Islamist president, then demanding dialogue and a national unity government that would include opposition leaders.

Khaled Dawoud is a spokesman for the NSF.

KHALED DAWOUD: I go to those demonstrations myself. And I do - the people there do give me a hard time. But again, at the end of the day, this is - the NSF is a coalition of at least 13 political parties, and we have to compromise among all those stands because what unites those people is a serious threat to the civilian democratic nature of the state by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.

FADEL: Egyptian and foreign analysts say that threat is real. The crisis began months before these latest protests, when the infamous president issued decrees that made him temporarily all powerful so he could push through a new constitution and a popular referendum. The move sparked mass protests and violence that subsided only to resurface later on the second anniversary of Egypt's revolt.

The protesters accuse Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to dominate all government institutions and suppress criticism, accusations the Muslim Brotherhood rejects. Sobhy Saleh of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing is dismissive of the opposition. The president may be accused of governing with the Brotherhood agenda, but he was choosing by the people, Saleh says. The opposition has yet to show its power at the ballot box.

SOBHY SALEH: (Through translator) Their only common factor is their hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that's not a political agenda. The solution is agreeing to the rules of democracy and its mechanisms.

FADEL: As the rhetoric grows more bitter, some observers fear that the hopes for a transition to democracy will only give way to another dictatorship. Meanwhile, there's a groundswell of frustration among average Egyptians over a faltering economy, continued police brutality, a lack of transitional justice and a new constitution that has divided, rather than united the country.

Again, Egypt expert Issandr El Amrani.

AMRANI: There's a lack of leadership in this country that's becoming quite worrying, because you're seeing the entire place kind of go adrift.

MOHAMMED RABIE: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: In Tahrir Square, protester Mohammed Rabie, who has been unemployed for months, says he has lost all faith in the political leadership. If the opposition takes power, he says, they will lead like Morsi and forget about people like him. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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