Egypt back to Pharaoh: Why Morsi could not be a Moses

Morsi detained
By Ameen Izzadeen
Egypt’s Arab Spring in February 2011 succeeded in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak – the pharaoh who ruled the Arab world’s most populous nation for 30 long years — but Mohammed Morsi, the man who replaced him, certainly did not turn out to be a Moses.
He could not perform any miracles of the economic kind. He could not divide the sea and take the people to the land of milk and honey, as Moses did three millennia ago. But there are also no Moseses among the Tamarod – the motley opposition that gathered in Tahrir Square in their millions. Neither is the military the messiah.
As the political situation changed dramatically on Wednesday night with the popularly elected President being overthrown, the developments only underscored the military’s unwillingness to part with power to a civilian authority that tried to clip its wings. In short, what happened on Wednesday night in Egypt was not part II of the revolution but a military coup with a human masquerade. It chopped down the tree of democracy as it was beginning to take root.
Yet millions of Egyptian people cheered as the military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution and the appointment of an interim government headed by the chief justice of the Constitutional Court – Egypt’s highest judicial authority. The people’s revulsion of Morsi – for he betrayed the goals of the revolution — was so intense that they would not have cared even if the devil took over the government. The coming weeks and months may show that what the victorious opposition now describes as the re-launch of the revolution has only helped Mubarak loyalists to return to power. Egyptians have apparently squandered the opportunity to consolidate democracy. They have instead given legitimacy to mobocracy – or rule by the unruly mob.
The military will never part with power. It had ruled Egypt since 1952 when Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy. The 2011 Arab Spring only removed Mubarak, but the real power remained with the Army which is on the United States’ payroll. The United States gives more than one billion dollars annually to the Egyptian military. The money goes directly to the military. Besides, all top Egyptian military officers are trained in the US. The United States’ hold on the Egyptian military is largely aimed at ensuring Israel’s security. It perhaps feels that Egypt is strategically too important a country to be left in the hands of a bunch of Islamists dreaming of a pan-Islamic super state.
Morsi’s biggest mistake was that he tried to define the role of the military in democracy terms. The military saw it as an attempt to undermine its power.
Morsi, who is now under military detention, may be an honest leader, but he lacked the astuteness to walk the tightrope. He tried to assert his authority knowing well that his hands were shackled and his feet fettered. He was not allowed to do what he thought was necessary to put Egypt on the right track. The Deep State, comprising the military, the top-level judiciary and the bureaucracy, was pulling the rug from under his feet. Every time Morsi took one step forward, the Deep State pushed him two steps back. His Justice and Freedom Party – a product of the Islamic Brotherhood — won Egypt’s first ever free and fair parliamentary elections in the afterglow of the Arab Spring, but the Constitutional Court declared the elections null and void and dissolved parliament. Morsi appointed a constituent assembly to draft a democratic constitution for the country, but the Deep State-backed political forces quit the process accusing Morsi of trying to Talibanise the nation. Morsi invited the opposition to discuss their differences, but the Deep State and its cronies spurned the offer. Morsi freed the media, but the Deep State kept its control over the state media. Each time Morsi agreed to meet the demands of the opposition, the Deep State added more demands.
Morsi also failed to realise that the grievance of those who throng Tahrir Sqaure in their millions in 2011 and during the last few days was not about Islamising the country. They simply wanted jobs, democracy and freedom. Morsi had plans, but the people wanted miracles.
Morsi assumed office last year — 16 months after dictator Mubarak was ousted. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the military chief, ran the country in the interim. Morsi’s one year in office was marked by regular protests by opposition groups which included supporters of the Mubarak regime, secularists, liberals, a few left parties, trade unions, youth groups, and, of course, agents of the Deep State.
The security forces’ Deep State links became obvious, when they looked the other way as scores of Morsi supporters were killed in the last few days.
Morsi’s problem was that he had to work with the same security forces hierarchy that did the dirty work for Mubarak, the same bureaucracy that worked for Mubarak and the same judiciary that colluded with Mubarak. After assuming office, Morsi tried to shuffle the bureaucracy, change the judges and restructure the military, but had only limited success. For instance, in November last year, he issued a declaration that his decrees were immune from judicial review. He did it with good intentions so that his political and democratic reforms would not be undermined by the Mubarak-era judges of the Constitutional Court. But it helped his opponents, including former International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohammed al-Baradei and former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, to whip up public anger and accuse Morsi of tampering with judicial independence. Needless to say, a majority of the people who could see that the economy was worsening under Morsi, rallied behind the opposition in yet another demonstration of people’s power.
Morsi had inherited an economy that was in a big mess. The crisis worsened when Mubarak’s crony capitalists moved as much as US$ 9 billion out of the country in the days ahead of the dictator’s overthrow. Morsi, a US educated engineer, had plans to revive the economy. He was negotiating a US$ 4.8 billion loan package with the IMF. But as usual, the IMF wanted tough economic reforms. Morsi had to slash subsidies and increase sales taxes to balance the budget. Prices of essential items such as bread and gas went up.
Tourism, one of the main revenue sources of the state also suffered. This was not only because the President’s Islamic-minded Brotherhood saw tourism as a sector that promoted un-Islamic practices such as alcohol and indecency. But it was also because of regular protests the opposition launched across the country and the attacks on minority Coptic Christian community by unknown gangs.
As the plot thickened, the Morsi government uncovered the Deep State’s role in the attack on Egyptian border guards in Sinai in August last year. The attackers were killed by Israeli troops when they tried to cross the Israeli border. Following this incident, Morsi got military strongman Tantawi, who was serving as the defence minister, to retire. Tantawi’s removal shocked the Egyptians because usually it was the President who got orders from him. Some say Morsi could do this because he had evidence to prove the military’s Deep State role in the Sinai attack. The wounded military waited for an opportunity to pounce on Morsi. And it came this week.
Morsi’s vulnerability also stems from the fact that only 24 per cent of the people voted for him in the first round at the presidential election last year. In the runoff, he won 56 per cent of the votes. It was not the votes of Brotherhood supporters alone that ensured his victory. But other Egyptians – the liberals, the youth and the minorities — who rose up against the Mubarak regime also voted for him as he appeared to be better than the only other candidate, Ahmed Safik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.
As the crisis enveloping the economy deepened, Morsi could not match the high expectations of the masses with his slow, cautious and sometimes confused economic agenda. The masses became impatient and started to accuse him of carrying out the Brotherhood agenda of Islamising Egypt instead of tackling its economic woes. Morsi’s Brotherhood had a good track record as a people-friendly organisation. Even though Brotherhood leaders had been persecuted for more than five decades, the group ran schools for the poor, distributed charity and carried out community services, winning the hearts and minds of the poor. Many expected that a Brotherhood government would be more caring. But once in government, the Brotherhood could not do what it had been doing as a social service group. This was because Morsi did not have absolute power. He realised that the military, the judiciary and the bureaucracy were other centres of power.
As Chief Justice Adly Mansour took charge as interim president yesterday, it became clear that there were many outside forces that were also happy. No sooner Morsi was ousted, Saudi Arabia rushed to endorse the coup d’état. This was largely because the Morsi regime was a closer friend of Qatar, which is playing a key role in Middle Eastern and world affairs, much to the chagrin of the Saudis. Besides, the Saudi regime’s policies conform to those of the United States – and by extension, those of Israel.
Unlike the Saudis, the United States was more cautious in its reaction to the coup. It did not condemn it either. Instead, it blamed Morsi. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in constant touch with military strongman Sisi as tension built up in Egypt ahead of the coup. Israel, though maintaining a stoic silence, cannot be unhappy, for Morsi was a friend of the Palestinians. He prevented a major Israeli military assault on Gaza last year by sending his prime minister to the besieged territory to show solidarity with the Palestinians.
With the Deep State back in the saddle, what comes next? If the interim president or the president who is to be elected — if an when a presidential election is held — fails to deliver the promises or make things better for the people during his first year in office, should the people gather in Tahrir Square for another mass demonstration in July next year? Perhaps, the Egyptians should change their constitution and reduce the term of their president to one year.
At least till fresh elections are held — please note that the military did not announce a specific timeframe — Egypt is in the hands of the Deep State whose interests are different from those of the people who are now celebrating the ouster of Morsi.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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