Issue No.1134, 7 February, 2013      06-02-2013 04:31PM ET

Broken promise

How serious is the erosion of President Mohamed Morsi’s legitimacy, asks Dina Ezzat

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Thousands protest against Morsi
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Thousands protest against Morsi
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The grieving relative of a young Egyptian man widely believed to have been beaten to death by the police gave a devastating show of remorse for having voted for Mohamed Morsi last summer. Dressed in black, and on camera, she hit herself hard on the head with her own shoe in an expression of devastation over the loss of Mohamed Al-Guindi during his funeral on Monday in Tanta.

“I regret having voted for you. I regret having had faith in you. I regret having thought that you could make it. I will never forgive you Mohamed Morsi. I will continue to say down, down with you Mohamed Morsi,” cried the grieving woman. Al-Guindi was detained late January while protesting on Qasr Al-Nil bridge. Police later claimed to have found the body of an unconscious young man involved in a car accident which they took to Al-Helal public hospital. The state coroner announced Al-Guindi died following a blow to the head. Medical and legal activists who saw his body said it bore all the marks of torture, including a wire around the neck, burns to the back and abdomen and electric burns on the tongue.

Al-Guindi’s death recalled that of Khaled Said, the young Alexandrian beaten to death in broad daylight in Alexandria in 2010. His brutal murder by police fuelled the outpouring of anger that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Following Said’s death the forensic team appointed by the prosecutor-general announced he had died through asphyxiation after swallowing a packet of opium while being arrested by police for alleged drug trafficking. The attempt to whitewash his gruesome killing was quickly exposed as a pack of lies.

“If the state wants us to believe the official coroner’s account of the death of Mohamed Al-Guindi then we would also have to believe the original autopsy on Khaled Said,” says Rania, a demonstrator who joined an angry crowd to protest before the presidential palace earlier in the week. “Morsi is Mubarak — there is no difference between the two, unfortunately. Morsi has lost legitimacy for betraying the faith of the people and trying to turn Egypt back to the days of Mubarak’s police state.”

Al-Guindi’s death this week was not the only one to hit the headlines. Young protester Amr Saad was killed by police gunshots during anti-Morsi protests before the presidential palace. There was also filmed footage of 48-year-old Hamada Saber stripped naked and brutally beaten by Central Security Forces as he lay on the ground. Saber was later taken to a police hospital. Forced by police pressure to claim he had been attacked by protesters, he later retracted the story and admitted his assailants were in fact police.

“What we are witnessing are the practices of a dictator. Egypt cannot be ruled by a dictator, not after the revolution,” said Fadel, another demonstrator before the presidential palace.

“Morsi lost his legitimacy with the first gunshot fired against an Egyptian citizen. I could have tolerated his dismal performance, his and his government’s failure to improve living conditions but I cannot tolerate the killing of Egyptians. If we shut up now Morsi will turn into a worse dictator than Mubarak.”

As far as Rania and Fadel are concerned, Morsi’s legitimacy as president derives not only from his wafer-thin election victory.

“His election gave him part of his legitimacy. The rest comes from the support of the people and their satisfaction,” says Rania.

“Morsi may have been legitimately elected but he took an oath to work to serve the interests of this nation and he is not doing that at all,” argues Fadel.

Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says “Morsi may have the legitimacy of being an elected president but he now needs to worry about retaining the legitimacy to rule. To do so requires some willingness by the president to reconsider his policies and choices.”

Morsi, says Rashwan, is losing credibility, though “this does not amount to losing legitimacy.”

“To fully lose legitimacy the masses need to take to the streets to topple him as they did with Mubarak during the January Revolution.”

“What we see today are widening demonstrations against Morsi’s record in office but it is not anywhere near what unfolded during the January Revolution.”

There is still a possibility, says Rashwan, that frustration can be reversed if the president acts to end the human rights violations and addresses the concerns of the people.

The debate over Morsi’s legitimacy is misleading, says political analyst and National Salvation Front (NSF) member Wahid Abdel-Meguid. It diverts attention from the more pertinent debate over his poor performance and how it can be improved.

Though Morsi’s approval ratings have declined dramatically just eight months into his term of office, “it cannot be said that the vast majority of the population wants to see Morsi out of office — not yet,” says Abdel-Meguid.

The NSF has never called for an end to Morsi’s presidency, he says. “We are demanding accountability for crimes committed but not for the removal of Morsi. We want Morsi to act differently and we want him to fix some of the mistakes that have been made but that is different from saying we want him removed.”

Salafi leader Ashraf Thabet agrees that Morsi needs to do a great deal if he is to reverse the disturbing polarisation that is “threatening the civil cohesion of society”.

Thabet’s recipe for containing polarisation is exhaustive. It includes, among other things, acknowledgment by the president that he misled the public with unrealistic promises during his presidential campaign, as well as a new commitment to participatory government, reconciliation with the judiciary and the abandoning of attempts to “bleach state bodies with the one political colour to which the president subscribes”. 

“The nation is going through a very hard time. To suggest that the president should be toppled now is to invite civil war between those who want the president to go and those who support him. This is not something Egypt can afford,” says Thabet.

Leftist activist Wael Khalil, who supported Morsi in the second round of the presidential election, is frustrated by Morsi’s intransigence and unwillingness to pursue consensual politics but not at all sure his departure from office will achieve anything.

“At this point, when Morsi has moved beyond tolerating police brutality against demonstrators to actually endorsing it, one can safely speak of his eroding legitimacy,” says Khalil. But however tarnished, Morsi has not entirely lost his legitimacy and it is in the interest of the nation, not just of Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood, that the president acts to repair his damaged authority by accommodating the demands of public opinion.

For Khalil, it is the masses and not opposition politicians whose anger should be taken into account. If the president fails to do so — and sooner rather than later — Morsi could lose all legitimacy before the end of his presidential term.

“When the masses took out to the streets and insisted on removing Mubarak they did so because he had become an obstacle to change. This is not the case with Morsi, not yet anyway.”

“But this is something Morsi cannot count on indefinitely,” adds Khalil. “He needs to get his act together. Things have to start rolling. We need to fix the economy and services and so on.”

Essam Al-Erian, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, says there is a debate within both over ways to improve the performance of the state. But, he warns, “it is wrong to suggest that Morsi should be toppled or to claim that he has lost legitimacy over the death of Al-Guindi and Saad or the series of political mishap of the past few weeks.”

“An elected president has to complete his term in office and it is totally irresponsible of the opposition to suggest otherwise.”

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Comments

ALBERT R. MUNITZ wrote:

10-02-2013 11:49pm

Mor(si) or Less
I read Morsi this & Morsi that. Pres. Morsi is part of a group and, to bring about a more democratic government, it is imperative that his supporters be held to account as well as himself. The Egyptian people have demonstrated their desire for a non-dictatorial government that takes into account the welfare of all Egyptians - male, female, Muslem or Christian. Hopefully Morsi can still pull his supporters together and provide what the people desire.