Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump and Morsi

There are many similarities between US President Donald Trump and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi

They don’t look alike. But in being unfit to preside over America and Egypt, respectively, they match.

US President Donald Trump has put himself above the law, saying that in critical cases it does not apply to the president. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did the same. Trump can see no conflict of interest in mixing the business of his 550 companies and being president of the United States. Mohamed Morsi was much the same when he declared during his presidency of Egypt that he was above the law.

Perceiving Russia as an ally of the US, Trump has seen no problem in Russia slicing off part of the Ukraine. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get along,” he has intoned. In Egypt, during the Brotherhood’s reign of darkness in 2012-2013 Morsi saw in Turkey and Pakistan foreign policy extensions of Cairo.

Morsi did not have the material riches of Trump. Far from it. But in Khairat Al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s money bags, there was some equivalent. The Brotherhood’s coffers were also supplemented by unaccounted-for financial dollops from overseas. The Central Accounting Office in Cairo was barred from even raising questions about these, being told they were “charitable contributions” from abroad and not the affair of the state.

This is similar to Trump’s non-divulgence of his tax returns either before the presidential elections or after his elevation to the post of president. “We are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service,” he has said. There is no proof of that. Even if proof were produced about the feigned audit, there would be no conflict in divulging the amount and sources of Trump’s claimed riches in the interests both of transparency and the payment of US taxes.

Trump came to the Oval Office not through the majority of the popular vote in November 2016. His non-merited ascendancy to the most influential executive post in the world came through a constitutional gimmick called the US Electoral College. This is an appendix to the American constitutional structure that was intended by the country’s founding framers to keep a mobocracy from ruling America.

Well, that safety valve has malfunctioned, as it backfired when enraged mobs were counted for the purposes of satisfying the Electoral College.

In Morsi’s case, the route to the presidency in Egypt was circuitous, but it led in the same direction. First, Morsi was not the first choice of the Muslim Brotherhood (Nor was Trump for the Republican Party establishment in America – 16 others competed with him for the prize). But once Morsi was chosen, his gains over his opponent Ahmed Shafik left the legitimacy of the vote in doubt. Even with a one-and-a-half per cent edge in the popular vote over Shafik, the ballot boxes were not secure, and the judicial monitoring was not geographically even.

Both Trump and Morsi have a propensity for war. Trump has declared “I love war,” and Morsi beat the drums for war against Ethiopia over the construction by Addis Ababa of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. “Egypt will go dry – a catastrophe,” screamed Morsi. Yet all the while he looked the other way as Hamas in the Gaza Strip denied the very existence of Israel, with which Egypt has a peace treaty.

The two men share the same perception of brotherly movements abroad as a means of legitimating their rule over their respective countries. Trump sees in the British “Brexit” and the rise of the extreme right in Europe a vindication of the neo-isolationism of America. The deposed Egyptian president saw in a mythical caliphate over all Muslim lands the road to the resurgence of Islam, as interpreted by the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is interesting to note that neither Trump nor Morsi has an inclination to read. Trump has openly manifested that, but Morsi has proved it by more circumstantial evidence. Morsi claims to have a PhD in engineering from a university in California. The question is, did he write his own dissertation? Or was it written for him on commission? If he had written it himself, why does he not have a greater command of the English language, something which would surely have been developed by the arduous self-authorship of a PhD dissertation?

In a pamphlet entitled “Accomplishments of President Dr Mohamed Morsi” put out by the Brotherhood nearly 500 projects are listed from dredging a canal in Upper Egypt to the repair of the railways between Cairo and Alexandria. All this was done by Morsi! Similar claims are made by Trump of his first 50 days as president. Pre-election plans for industrial expansion by large US companies are immediately claimed by the narcissistic president as part of his achievements.

Anxiety reigns over America since the assumption by Trump of the presidency. In certain instances that anxiety translates into outright fear, experienced by immigrants worried over deportation for the flimsiest infraction, for example. Included in these widening circles of fear are Muslims due to Trump’s Muslim ban and compounded by raising red flags over the misnomer of “Islamic terrorism”. As if terrorism had a faith.

Something similar was the case in Egypt during the reign of obscurantism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The targets were Copts, liberals, secularists, and women. Tourism dried up, compounding the economic woes of Egypt, a country of nearly 100 million people. The attackers of churches, Shias, unveiled women, and the message of Al-Azhar went unpunished. It was the reign of impunity gone mad.

Neither Trump nor Morsi saw in the judiciary a co-equal branch of government. In Egypt, the Supreme Constitutional Court was besieged for weeks by Brotherhood hooligans. The Brotherhood controlled both the executive and its Brotherhood-majority parliament. As for Trump, judgements by the judiciary in the US have been attributed to the ethnic background of one federal judge, or to the incompetence of another, as was the case in freezing Trump’s executive order affecting freedom of movement in and out of the US. Trump called the orders issued by the US judiciary in Washington State and Hawaii “judicial over-reach”.

One more thought remains: the Egyptian Revolution of 30 June 2013 resulted in the removal of Morsi, saving Egypt from the possibility of civil war. In America, the nation is deeply divided over the roles of the three branches of government, including the judiciary, through the possible confirmation of a very conservative ninth justice for the Supreme Court, and the growing anxiety over Russia’s influence and possible blackmail of Trump. These are the kinds of drip-drip worry that may end in shortening Trump’s presidency.

Similar features of governance by Trump and Morsi are manifest in two critical areas. They both failed in keeping religion and state separate, and they both seemed to treat the armed forces of their respective countries as if they were their personal possessions. Witness the oft-repeated Trump reference to “my generals”.

Am I seeing similarities between Trump and Morsi as a result of my own dislike of both? Possibly. Of course, Trump may yet declare the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organisation, which would be a measure worthy of the war on terrorism. But despite such actions, I cannot avert my gaze from two presidents who have acted similarly on a variety of issues.

In life, similarity of circumstances, especially in governance, generally leads to similar outcomes. The parallels between the Trump and Morsi trajectories are difficult to ignore. Both of them rested their thrones on the perilous grounds of “I won” in elections.

Both Trump and Morsi live on the same oxygen, an oxygen called the mob. They both draw their fancied approval from the howling masses. For Morsi it was those gathered in the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda squares in Cairo. For Trump, it is Tennessee and Michigan.

The Trumpists, especially Steve Bannon, Trump’s media adviser, are calling for “the destruction of the administrative state”. This anti-state call evokes the horrible memory of the Muslim Brotherhood call of “toz fi misr” (to Hell with Egypt) uttered by a Brotherhood supreme guide.

There can be nothing either “supreme” or “guiding” in belittling an Egypt with a history of 7,000 years.

The writer is a professor of law at New York University in the US.

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