Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

One hundred days with Morsi

Hosni Mubarak had three decades to entrench his legacy. Mohamed Morsi promised to undo some of its worst manifestations within 100 days. So what's the verdict, asks Amira Howeidy

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There were no tangible improvements in the traffic crisis, the disposal of rubbish nor the bread shortages during the first hundred days of Morsi as he pledged

Mohamed Morsi was not the only presidential candidate to issue a first-hundred-days-in-office hit list. But it was Morsi who won and so his hit list -- in which the presidential contender promised to address fuel and bread shortages, clean up Egypt's towns and cities, ensure traffic flows smoothly and return security to the country's streets -- is the list that counts.

Now it's accountability time. Morsi says he has kept 70 per cent of his promises. Independent observers such as the website beg to differ. He has kept six out of the 64 promises he made, they say. The jury is still out on 24 others. The rest haven't even been broached.

Quite what criteria the president and his critics use to assess which promises have been kept, and to what extent, is unclear. Nor is it obvious how Morsi's election campaign strategy four months ago has impinged on his actions since taking Egypt's top job on 30 June. Having set himself goals it was only when he won the election that he saw the shape of the pitch.

FIRST THERE WAS THE PRESIDENT AND TANTAWI: Hours before polls closed in the final round of the presidential election the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a constitutional addendum granting itself legislative powers and the right to approve the state budget and interfere in the process of drafting a new constitution among a host of other exceptional powers. Not only did this render the new president powerless, it created a de facto situation of joint military-civilian rule in which SCAF leader Hussein Tantawi became an unelected co-president.

Conflict between the military establishment and Egypt's first elected civilian president was evident when Morsi was forced, in the absence of a parliament and as per SCAF's choice, to take his oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court on 30 June. Although he made sure to ban TV stations from broadcasting it live (it was aired later), the sight of Morsi standing before the court's Mubarak-appointed judges spoke volumes about the balance of power. It wasn't in Morsi's favour.

Despite his effort to balance the situation by showing up in Tahrir Square on 29 June and taking a symbolic oath before a cheering crowd -- without a bullet proof vest as he pointed out -- Morsi was viewed as a hands-tied president doomed to fail.

It explains why his first-week decisions to establish a "board of grievances" (Diwan Al-Mazalem) to address people's problems directly from the presidency, and to form a committee to review investigations and trials held between the 25 January uprising and 30 June, when he was elected, were received with a grain of salt.

This sentiment was exacerbated on 8 July when Morsi issued a decree reinstating the dissolved parliament -- a step welcomed by some political and revolutionary quarters but attacked by others -- only to retract it three days later after the Constitutional Court protested. Although the Constitutional Court's mandate is restricted to hearing disputed constitutional clauses referred by other courts, which clearly wasn't the case, Morsi bowed to the political storm and dropped the issue.

Such was the backdrop against which Morsi embarked on his first foreign visit as president, to none other than anti-revolution Mubarak ally Saudi Arabia. His choice of Riyadh for his first foreign visit conveyed the message that the parameters of Egypt's foreign policy remained unchanged. He positioned Egypt alongside Saudi Arabia as the region's protector of Sunni Islam, a sectarian manoeuvre interpreted as a message to Shia Iran, and one that didn't resonate well at home. Three days later US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first high-level foreign official to visit Morsi. This didn't bode well either, feeding concerns that a Mubarak-like foreign policy was taking shape.

This view was challenged -- albeit slightly -- when Morsi visited Addis Ababa on 15 July to attend the African Summit. Mubarak had boycotted the Ethiopian capital following a failed assassination attempt there, and he did not attend African summits.

It wasn't enough to impress. Nor was his Clean Homeland campaign: on 27 and 28 July groups -- many comprising members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- began to clean up the streets. But in the absence of a sustainable waste management policy the garbage reappeared within days.

The threadbare infrastructure bequeathed by the Mubarak regime haunted Morsi as the authorities failed to address growing power shortages. Power and water cuts overshadowed delays in appointing a new prime minister.

Many eyebrows were raised when he finally introduced 52-year-old Hisham Kandil, a relatively unknown technocrat who had served as minister of agriculture in the previous two cabinets, as Egypt's new premier on 23 July. The low-profile Kandil, who hailed from Mubarak's bureaucracy, didn't meet expectations of the politically independent prime minister many had hoped for. His beard triggered accusations of "latent" Brotherhood sympathies among a mass of unfounded claims including, but not limited to, the rumour that he was married to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's sister.

CONSOLIDATING POWER, OUSTING THE MILITARY: Morsi's salvation came with the attack on 5 August when unknown gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards in north Sinai. For a week the massacre seemed to backfire on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood because of their "links" with Hamas's Gaza, which SCAF blamed for the ambush. But to everyone's surprise Morsi used the incident to get rid of the generals. On 12 August, days after sacking the General Intelligence chief, he issued a decree retiring Tantawi and chief of staff Sami Anan. He then annulled SCAF's constitutional addendum and allocated the powers SCAF had enjoyed since 17 June to the presidency.

This is Morsi's most significant achievement to date. It put to rest talk of "the deep state" which had dominated political discourse since SCAF assumed power following Mubarak's ouster. What many thought would take months, if not years, to happen, was achieved in a month. Yet coverage of Morsi's first 100 days has repeatedly failed to give this bold step the credit it deserves.

Regardless of the exceptional powers in his hands -- which are rightly a cause for concern -- the implications of Morsi's dismissing the military's top brass cannot be overestimated. For the first time since the 1952 Revolution when the military overthrew the monarchy and established a republic Egypt is ruled by an elected civilian, paving the way for a healthier balance in civilian-military relations though this has yet to be reflected in the constitution.

In another departure from Mubarak's modus operandi Morsi appointed reformist judge Mahmoud Mekki as vice president, Egypt's first since Mubarak succeeded Anwar Al-Sadat.

CORRECTING, NOT CHANGING MUBARAK'S POLICY: Now enjoying SCAF's legislative powers, on 24 August Morsi issued a law prohibiting pre-trial detention of those accused of publishing offences.

Three days later he headed to China, accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen -- including members of the Mubarak business clique -- in what Freedom and Justice Party leader Essam Al-Erian described as the beginning of a new policy in shifting regional balances of power. No official echoed this strong political message but pundits suggested it would trigger competition between China and the West over Egypt.

Beijing promised Egypt a $200 million loan and Morsi's delegation signed deals worth $6 billion.

Within a week US officials were quoted as saying that the Barack Obama administration was going ahead with a plan to provide Egypt with a $1 billion aid package, including debt relief to help the economy.

It's not clear whether Morsi's plans to visit Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting stalled the US aid package, but it was cause for apprehension in Washington, Israel and the Gulf. Mubarak was consistently hostile towards Iran and refused to normalise diplomatic relations with Tehran while maintaining full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv.

Egypt's president was to set foot in Iran for the first time in decades, a politically loaded statement hailed by many as proof that Morsi was serious about restoring Cairo's leading regional role. He delivered a carefully worded, politically calculated speech at the opening of the NAM conference. Once again he stressed Egypt's Sunni identity. He launched an attack on the Syrian regime while at the same time indirectly supporting Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

The nuances of his speech -- analysed in great detail here --were the first signs of a possible new trend in Egypt's foreign policy. Little has materialised since. In fact, Morsi has seemed more inclined to pursue Mubarak-era policies. Ahead of his visit to New York to address the UN General Assembly on 24 September Morsi gave his first newspaper interview since being elected, opting for The New York Times rather than an Egyptian publication. The message seemed in tune with the importance Mubarak -- and his predecessor Anwar Al-Sadat -- attached to the West, aka the US.

Morsi's statements to an Egyptian TV channel during his US visit on how he doesn't "have a problem" with the peace agreement with Israel supported perceptions that he remains unwilling to differentiate his discourse from Mubarak's.

That there has been no decisive shift away from his predecessor's policies, in either the domestic or international arena, leaves Morsi the target of criticism that will inevitably mount. The continuity could not be more evident than in his eagerness to pursue the $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund's loan to Egypt and present it as an unavoidable emergency solution to the country's ailing economy. The move is perfectly in line with the spirit of the government he appointed, a government that opposes strikes, slavishly follows the priorities of Mubarak-era state budgets and has nothing to offer Egypt's poor except promises it will pursue the same economic policies as its predecessors though without the "corruption".

One hundred days at the helm of a state reeling beneath decades of systemic corruption is not enough to pass judgement on Mohamed Morsi. What he needs to show now, though, is that he intends to do something other than follow Mubarak's footsteps, even if he does so without the plundering.

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