As a power battle simmers to the brim between the military and the presidency, exchanging messages in the final hours before the deadline set by the Armed Forces, anesthesiologist Abeer Ali knows exactly where she stands.
“I want [President Mohamed] Morsi to leave and the military not to rule,” she says, waving her flag and chanting against Morsi in Tahrir Square.
The military helicopters that started hovering over Cairo when large protests erupted on Sunday calling on Morsi to leave, received the same welcome as the military tanks that appeared in the streets on 28 January 2011 amid an uprising that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak.
But under the jubilation there is wariness of the military that was not present in 2011.
While those in the square considered the military’s support for the current street movement an essential last step to put an end to Morsi’s presidency, some have not forgotten the contentious year and a half of military rule that followed the fall of Mubarak.
While they see it as a necessity, protesters showed varying degrees of comfort regarding the role of the military and had different opinions as to the extent of intervention they are willing to accept.
While she was relieved by the army’s declaration of support and saw intervention as inevitable, Ali sees the situation as far from ideal.
“I had hoped that we could continue on our own, but practically the Brotherhood will not leave without the military playing a role. Now I want the military to make a plan then leave,” she says.
A week before the protests, the military’s chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi voiced concern over the divisions in the country, saying that the military cannot stay silent and watch Egypt slide into a dangerous conflict and called on political forces to resolve the situation within a week.
Two days into the unprecedented mass protests that swept the country, another statement was issued on Monday, giving the presidency 48 hours to respond to the demands of the people, after which the military will be forced to announce a roadmap that will be carried out under its supervision.
But Ali says, “We will not let our revolution be hijacked again — not by the Brotherhood, not by the remnants of the old regime and not by the military.”
Mandoura Naguib, a housewife, differentiated between the military and its leaders who were involved in ruling in 2011, and she sees the fact that the statement was issued by the military and not individuals makes a big difference.
“The military is an institution that belongs to the people. We have the right to call for it whenever we need, they have a duty towards us as an executing power,” she says. “Whatever the people want, the military should enforce but if they try to rule, we will take them down like we took down the presidency before,” she adds.
In the months following their takeover of power in 2011, the ruling military council was criticized for committing human rights violations and for steering the country off a viable transitional path. This time around, many are confident that the military has no intention to hold onto power, as it has reiterated in its latest statements.
Lawyer Zakareya Mohie Eddin, who came from Monufiya to participate in the protests, says, “Last time, the people wanted to oust Mubarak then left the square and let the Brotherhood manipulate the military. This time around, the youth won’t let the military rule.”
Many also believe that the military’s leadership is not the same as it was two years ago. In November, Morsi retired Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and many top military leaders and appointed a younger figure, including Sisi as defense minister.
“The military has learned from the experience, Sisi is a patriotic man. He’s young and charismatic. Tantawi was old and wanted to preserve the gains he made under Mubarak,” says Mohie Eddin.
Meanwhile, Hossam al-Akkawy, head of the General Coalition for Tourism, is certain that the military has no intention to rule, adding that the military’s statement eased his concerns and showed people that betting on the military would win out in the end.
“The leaders of the military in 2011 were Mubarak’s and they were trying to save themselves, but this time they are not,” he says.
Akkawy adds that there is no room for questioning the military’s loyalty after it volunteered to save the people from what he calls the hell that the Brotherhood has left them in.
“We have trust that our military leaders have as much or even more patriotism in their blood that the people in Tahrir,” he says.
While most have their reservations as to the level of involvement of the military, others have blind trust in the institution.
Sherif Magdy, a 32-year-old researcher in the general prosecutor’s office says that after the country suffered from an absence of security, he now supports permanent military rule.
“The military is capable of making this country democratic and free. The Quran says that our soldiers are the best on earth,” he says.
Ahmed Abdel Gawad, 23, agrees. “The military is my guarantee. It is our only hope,” he says. “It’s my safety net and it protects me.”