In 1974, the most famous heavyweight-boxing match in history took place, in which Muhammed Ali knocked out champion George Foreman in the eighth round. Ali adopted a masterful tactic, allowing Foreman to beat him until the former was so exhausted that he was able to land a punch that left Foreman flat on the canvas.
Following the January 2011 Tahrir uprising, Egypt’s liberal, secular opposition adopted the same strategy. In round after round of political flighting against the Islamists, they have been on the ropes — with many imprisoned, tortured, murdered and defamed.
Last month, sensing the Muslim Brotherhood had boxed itself into a corner — with the economy in tatters, inflation skyrocketing, the tourism industry devastated and an crime wave resulting in public lynchings — the bruised and battered secularists went for the knockout. Thousands burned down Brotherhood headquarters across the country. However, their strategy backfired. They proved themselves not political heavyweights but, rather, pitiful novices.
The country’s leading prosecutor ordered the arrest of five prominent secular activists, as Mr Morsi warned, in menacing language, of an imminent, and more widespread, crackdown against anyone who dares to challenge his status as the heavyweight political champion of the Arab world’s most populous country. This week, even the country’s most famous satarist, Bassem Youssef, was called in for five hours of questioning.
There was no outrage among ordinary Egyptians, no mass demonstrations. As ever-dwinding voter turnouts, and endlessly proposed “million-man marches” that have galvanised almost nobody, have proven, the Egyptian masses have long-since tired of the political fisticuffs.
While Mr Morsi was orchestrating what will amount to the elimination of his opponents, Islamist militias had begun to take the law into their own hands, in the wake of strikes by the country’s hated police force. And the president, at loggerheads with judges largely made up of former regime appointees, cunningly suggested that parliamentary elections, scheduled for this month, be delayed until October.
Unlike the secular opposition, Mr Morsi understands that Egyptians crave not pluralism and a vibrant democracy, but economic growth and security. As all elections so far have shown, the die-hard revolutionaries have almost no support -— apart from the gaggle of Western hacks reporting on every hurled rock and firebomb as though they indicate a second revolution. The election delay may allow the Brotherhood-dominated parliament to secure a crucial loan from the IMF, while the Islamist militias consolidate their control of the streets -— as Egyptians tire still more of the electoral process and the Islamists motivate their core base though charity work.
October will be the eighth round of elections since Murabak’s ouster. Only a desperate, drunken gambler would now bet on anything but Mr Morsi’s knockout of his opponents.