Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

‘A mission to die for’

Dina Ezzat shares the reflections of those waiting for President Mohamed Morsi’s post-midnight TV interview last weekend

Al-Ahram Weekly

“I waited and waited and decided that I wasn’t going to bed without listening to what he had to say. I am not keen on politics, but I was hoping I would get an indication from the interview on where things were going. I listened to the entire interview, but it would have been better if I had gone to sleep early as usual because I still don’t understand where we are going,” said Hassan, an upholsterer in a poorer neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

For Hassan, what really counted was not whether President Mohamed Morsi, for whom he voted in the second round of the presidential elections last summer, would keep his job or not. “What counts for me is the country. I voted for Morsi because I thought he could do a good job and help bring the prosperity that we had long talked about but never got a glimpse of,” Hassan said.

“But Morsi has not brought us prosperity, and security has been lost. Today we only hear on the TV talk shows that things will get worse, and he has not denied it. On the contrary, he has said that prices will increase,” Hassan added.

On Sunday evening, Hassan was one of the millions across the nation who made sure to be before their TV sets and tune in to the satellite channel Al-Mehwar to watch an interview with the head of state, whose presence, according to many commentators, bloggers and social-media activists, has been missed during the present upheaval.

The interview was given to Amr Al-Leithi, who briefly served as media adviser to the president before resigning last November against the backdrop of the crisis over the constitutional declaration issued by the president to claim for himself extra-judicial prerogatives. It was promoted as “the president’s words to his people”, according to one leading member of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and it was intended as “the ultimate slap in the face of those in the opposition who claim that the president has nothing to say about developments and is therefore keeping silent.”

According to Al-Mehwar, the interview was supposed to answer key economic and political questions, including the precise point that Hassan had in mind: where is Egypt heading? This question has become all the more urgent as the country has been in political turmoil in anticipation of the upcoming parliamentary elections that various opposition parties and groups are set to boycott.

The usual time of Al-Leithi’s programme is 8pm, but instead there was a preview of recent political and economic meetings at that time, including a meeting the president had held earlier in the month with a group of entrepreneurs. By 10pm, while Al-Mehwar was announcing the “upcoming interview by Amr Al-Leithi with President Mohamed Morsi” in intervals between patriotic songs and commercials, there was impatience across the social media and in cafés.

“Whatever happened to the president and his interview,” and “has something gone wrong” were questions asked in direct or indirect fashion. By 11pm jokes, mockery and criticisms were all over Facebook and Twitter about “a presidential interview that got lost” and “an extensive editing process by Khairat Al-Shater,” second-in-command of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Shater was the original candidate fielded by the Brotherhood for the presidency, though he failed to join the race due to the short interval between the elections and his release from imprisonment under a verdict issued under the rule of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

Presidential sources had suggested different times for the interview, which was recorded in the afternoon at the Qubba Palace in Cairo and was edited three times before 10pm. Al-Mehwar finally appealed to the presidency to release the final cut of the interview, which lasted over three hours but was reduced to two hours 20 minutes when it was finally broadcast at 1:30am.

For many on Facebook and Twitter, the clumsy editing and long delay were inevitable reminders of the 18 days of the 25 January Revolution when Hosni Mubarak would disappear and then be announced for a TV speech, which while on late was never broadcast after midnight.

Coming against a backdrop of calls for Morsi to step down from office as a result of discontent with his performance and policies, the parallels between the last days of Mubarak and what some hoped were the last days of Morsi were inevitably invoked during the long wait for the interview.

However, once the interview was on air talk was not about the Morsi-Mubarak comparison, something that Morsi qualified as “an impossible and unfair comparison to make” in the interview, but was rather about the clumsily edited interview and Morsi’s “lack of vision”.

“I was watching carefully, but honestly I cannot say that he offered a vision of how to repair the dispute he has with the opposition or how he will fix the economy that he said was in critical shape,” said Fayez, a salesman at a downtown jewellery store.

The economy was dealt with in the last third of the interview, with the president saying that “we have huge economic problems. This much I have known since my first meeting with the Central Bank governor” a few days after the 30 June swearing-in ceremony.

According to Morsi, the current economic crunch was a function of the “unfortunate combination” of “unbelievably rampant corruption” during the years of Mubarak’s rule — something he said he had underestimated — and the “destructive” incitement of “those who want to undermine” his efforts to establish the social justice that the 25 January Revolution called for. Morsi said he was “praying for Egypt to have” prosperity in 10 years’ time.

The details of the economic moves that Egypt will have to take on the road towards signing an agreement with the IMF for a loan worth some $4 billion, said to have been shared with Al-Leithi, were edited out, according to one informed source. What was left were a few poorly connected lines suggesting a commitment to the poor but admitting an inevitable rise in the prices of some basic commodities sooner rather than later, as well as attempts to improve the retirements of civil servants who had ended their term with the government.

“The trouble is that every time he speaks about the economy prices go up. Bit by bit they have been going up over and over again, and meanwhile the bill for my weekly shopping has increased by more than 10 per cent,” said one housewife grocery shopping in Mohandessin.

Morsi spoke of a few “mega”, “very big” and “very promising” projects, including the controversial scheme to upgrade the services of the Suez Canal that the president said “would always be Egyptian” while falling short of denying the rumour that the canal will be leased to Qatar under the project. Morsi was too general to make an impact where the other projects were concerned, and he failed to provide an idea of when the projects would be embarked upon or what kind of impacts they would have on the economy.

Morsi said that “the economy needs time to grow,” but the sentence that stayed in many of the people’s minds who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly was his reference to the “10 years” that Egypt would need before it was on its feet again.

Politics loomed larger in the interview than economics, at least in the broadcast version. Apart from some diluted references to foreign policy, home politics took the lead with the president criticising the media for its “deliberate incitement” of public opinion and condemning the ongoing demonstrations against his rule as being “taken over” by thugs and vandalism. Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, defended by the president during the interview as a hardworking head of the government, asked the opposition to stop providing political cover after the presidential interview was aired.

The president shrugged off opposition demands for prior guarantees of a list of demands it had made to the government, including the sacking of the new prosecutor-general, which opposition leaders say they want to see met before agreeing to join the national dialogue that Morsi has been offering and that he offered again in his Sunday night interview.

Morsi also shrugged off demands made by leading opposition figures to delay the parliamentary elections pending a settlement of the political crisis that has been going on unchecked since late November. “There is sufficient stability for the elections to be held,” Morsi said, only to add a few minutes later that “stability is lacking” due to the ongoing vandalism and hijacked demonstrations he had earlier described. He added that he would use “maximum firmness” against such vandalism.

Meanwhile, he failed to satisfy public curiosity over the real story behind a reported split between the president and the minister of defence. “I love the army,” he said. He also fudged speculations over unease between him and the intelligence services. “I love the intelligence,” he said, adding that “I follow their work closely. They are trying to restructure themselves, and there is no institution in the world that does not have a few problems.”

In the same spirit, Morsi downplayed his, or the Muslim Brotherhood’s, reported split with the Salafist Nour Party, and he described as “exaggerated” the anger of the residents of Port Said against his rule due to a perceived failure to bring those responsible for the slaying of 74 football fans from the city to justice.

Acknowledging that some mistakes had been made during the first eight months of his rule, Morsi suggested that his performance was good overall and that it was “impossible” for him to resign despite the calls for him to step down which he attributed to a limited group from the opposition.

Hitting back at critics who have suggested that his legitimacy has been undermined, Morsi insisted that he was the legitimately elected president and that he was committed to his hard mission. “It’s a mission to die for,” he said, in either a literal or metaphorical use of the historic phrase which has been highlighted before by some of Morsi’s supporters.

When the first broadcast of Morsi’s interview finished, it was close to 4am in Cairo and the Facebook and Twitter crowd was already shifting its interest from the long-delayed and frustrating interview to the 2013 Oscars, thus changing from Morsi to the glamour of Hollywood.

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