Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Morsi, one year on

A year on from the day he was sworn in as president, Mohamed Morsi has accumulated existing and new challenges that could prematurely terminate his four-year term, writes Dina Ezzat

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As Al-Ahram Weekly reaches readers this Thursday, President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, might be doing one of two things: signing a compromise deal with the expanding political opposition to end a year of disruptive political confrontation, or, according to several sources, ordering the arrest of opposition figures in order to shut down the expected nationwide protests demanding an abrupt end to his presidency.
The protests had been scheduled for 30 June, but they have also been taking place earlier, and they are deemed as disturbing to civil cohesion and national security interests by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, as well as interfering with the results of the presidential elections.
The scene has been picking up for some time, with growing frustration over Morsi’s political and economic choices that have left Egypt with two main political blocs, the Islamists and the non-Islamists, confronting each other over the country’s problems that include an expanded foreign debt and close-to-zero foreign currency reserves and endless foreign political disputes.
“The scene today is very similar to how things were a week before [former president Hosni] Mubarak had to step down. The demonstrations might not have started yet, but the overall atmosphere of anticipation and the consecutive rounds of meetings are very similar,” said one presidential official.
In February 2011, after 18 days of demonstrations across the nation, former president Mubarak bowed to the will of the people, the advice of the armed forces, and the demands of Washington and stepped down after three decades in office.
“There is no difference between Morsi and Mubarak. One is bearded and the other is not, but at the end of the day they are both dictators. We removed one, and we will remove the other,” said Mohamed, an activist who was joining the protests by intellectuals and officials at the Ministry of Culture in Cairo.
These people have been protesting against the appointment of a new minister of culture who is known to be an associate of the Muslim Brotherhood and who, since he took office less than two months ago, has removed several key officials from the ministry under allegations of corruption.
Speaking on Shagaret Al-Dorr Street in the Cairo district of Zamalek next to the ministry’s offices and as he leaned on a wall showing a composite image of Mubarak-Morsi, Mohamed, himself a student of fine arts, insisted that his show of support was not strictly about art and creativity but rather about “the way things have become during the past year. Everything has gone from bad to worse. He hasn’t managed to deliver at all, and he doesn’t give any indication that he can. He needs to take his people and go.”
The demand for the termination of this increasingly unwanted presidency is not just about Morsi himself, but, in the words of many, is also about the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole, or at least about the group’s leadership. “They know that their fate is related to the fate of Morsi. They are not blind, and this is one reason why they might decide to negotiate a deal,” said a military source.
Today, sources from within and without the presidential quarter say that Morsi might end up doing exactly what Mubarak did a couple of years ago: bow to the will of the people, while waiting for the preferences of the army to be made explicit and for Washington to show its hand.
“Things are changing fast. We are hoping to get everyone to find a way to work together and move forward, but we cannot be sure that this will happen. We have the will to encourage people from all sides, but we cannot decide for them. What we can decide, and what we have already decided, is that we will not be used to intimidate demonstrators or to get the opposition to bow to the will of the presidency. We will be there to keep the country from falling apart, and we will do whatever it takes to serve this purpose,” said a senior military source who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity.
Speaking less than 24 hours after the minister of defence and commander of the Armed Forces had issued a statement suggesting that the army was on the side of the people, but that it expected a political deal to be concluded between the presidency and the opposition, the source said that the president was opening up to the idea of a deal but what he was offering might not be good enough to convince the opposition to defuse the tension.
He added that it might not even be realistic to expect the leadership to exert serious control over developments on the ground. “They could reduce the volume of the participants, but they cannot call off the demonstrations completely and this much we know very well,” he said.
Amr Ezzat, an activist, insisted that “there is no clear map of the masses that are expected to take part in the demonstrations, and there is no central command of the demonstrations. They are spontaneous”. He added that unlike the calls for the demonstrations that started the 25 January Revolution, this time round there was no specific group of people that was calling for the demonstrations. “People are simply deciding to go to protest about what they believe is a very tough year on many fronts,” he stated.
Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, a leader of one of the oldest political parties on the liberal side of the political spectrum, the Wafd, agreed that the leaders could not call off the demonstrations. “What we are doing is to support the demonstrators and to be on their side, but it is essentially the call of the youth and it is not for the leadership to stop the youth and the masses from taking to the streets on 30 June,” he said.
Abdel-Nour and others from within the National Salvation Front (NSF), a loose umbrella for anti-Morsi political forces of all shades, have a scenario for 30 June and “maybe even earlier for all we know,” according to Abdel-Nour, that Morsi will not like and does not believe he is about to see but will nevertheless have to confront: around three million protesters taking to the streets, with significant numbers going to the Heliopolis presidential headquarters (Al-Ittihadiya palace) shouting slogans like the ones activist Khaled Abdel-Hamid has been promising.
These slogans include “Down, down with Morsi/Mubarak”, harsh words according to one insider, who said that the president had been shocked when watching TV in his office and seeing a report about a group of demonstrators shouting exactly that slogan. The slogans have also been shocking to Muslim Brotherhood members, who have been trying to get used to the fact that the president has made serious mistakes during his first year in office.
Muslim Brotherhood cadre Ali Khafagui insisted that it was “extremely unfair to compare Morsi to Mubarak. One has been president for less than a year and has been faced with all sorts of conspiracies and attempts to set back his work, and the other was in office for 30 years and denied the country the right to develop and flourish, and in fact arranged its stagnation.”
Khafagui said that Morsi’s first year in office could have been better in some ways, but he also insisted that this year’s performance was not poor enough to justify his ejection.  
According to Sobhi Saleh, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Morsi’s score at the end of the first year could have been so much higher “had it not been for the conspiracies that had been unfolding one after the other at the hands of the reminiscent of the regime that was ousted by the [25 January] Revolution”.
From the first day of his presidency, Saleh charges, “Morsi was not left to work in peace; the scheme was to make life difficult for him every step of the way and not to cooperate with him”.
Today, Saleh insists, that the call for the 30 June demonstrations is the “icing on the cake” for the plot to defy “Morsi and the Islamists at large”.

SOME SCENARIOS: Morsi’s 30 June scenario is not very clear. According to presidential sources, he is determined not to lose his cool over the countdown to 30 June.
“He is proceeding in his usual way, holding meetings and making rounds of calls and looking at reports,” said one presidential source. The source acknowledged that “political developments” were consuming most of the presidential interest, but that these included the reactions, mostly negative, to the newly released assignments of governor, the reactions to the Islamist demonstration staged with the participation of tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood followers on Friday, and preparations for the planned demonstrations expected to take place across the nation in less than a week.
According to the same source, Morsi was also receiving reports on the positions expressed by the army, the police and the judiciary, in apprehension of any statement that might confirm speculation about a rift between the presidency and the army on how to deal with the conflict.
The source spoke prior to the release of the statement by Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, which was met with considerable applause by the army top brass and by the top officers of the police, some of whom sent congratulatory messages to Al-Sisi, who is now seen by both the army and the police to be the “real” chief of the army.
Speaking of a meeting between Al-Sisi and Morsi that came in the wake of the release of the statements of the minister of defence on Monday evening, informed sources, said that it was not exactly a meeting between the commander of the army and his second-in-command, but rather one between the head of the executive, supported by a certain political group, and the head of the army, who has managed in the space of the year since he replaced former commander Hussein Tantawi last August to impose his authority over the president and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Sisi, according to the same sources, was polite and disciplined, but he also made it clear that the message sent was in the interest of all the parties concerned and that it was designed as a catalyst “for all of us to come to terms on how to proceed forward with the nation”, according to the words that one source attributed to the minister of defence.
The meeting was also the venue for an unequivocal show of impatience by the minister of defence about the use of “reckless language” that some Brotherhood members had been using to criticise the army.
This is far from being the first uneasy encounter between head of state and head of defence. Throughout the past year there have been rough moments where views clashed and ultimately the army offered support to Al-Sisi to force its will. A prominent case there was with the re-introduction of a mega development scheme, originally developed before the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, to expand the trade activities in the zone of the Suez Canal. The Muslim Brotherhood regime had attempted earlier in the year to re-work the scheme and launch it but was faced with considerable criticism of the new version that was scene, even some sympathisers, to be compromising the state sovereignty over the canal zone and the activities to be introduced there. The management of Sinai was another point of contention between president and minister of defence where for the most part Al-Sisi managed to get his views implemented.
During the course of the year, several Brotherhood figures were open in their criticisms of the army, both when it was under the command of Tantawi and when it was under the command of Al-Sisi. The supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood openly said that the armed forces were composed of good men who lacked good leadership.
Mohamed Al-Beltagui was “loudly critical” of the army in remarks made last Friday during a protest staged by Morsi’s supporters ahead of 30 June. In the words of one source, the fact that an otherwise angry president had all but apologised for Al-Beltagui’s remarks showed that the army was equal to the head of the executive.
“This is a bad thing in absolute terms, because it goes to show that from the beginning, and despite attempts to undo this set up, the state under the rule of Morsi has two heads: the president and the army. The stronger side is the one that has the tanks,” said a political opposition figure who had conferred with the army leadership prior to the breaking of this week’s statement.
Western diplomats in Cairo acknowledge the all but independent role that the army has developed since Mubarak stepped down and authorised the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to run state affairs prior to last year’s presidential elections. “For sure, it is a role that [the army] is not losing now, and in fact it is a role that is likely to be kept during 30 June and beyond, come what may,” said a European ambassador who was just about to finish a three-year term in Cairo.
Prior to the news of the increasing momentum of the 30 June demonstrations, Morsi was considering fulfilling his overseas commitments on 28 June. “He was supposed to visit two countries in Eastern Europe, but it does not seem now that this will happen,” said a government official. Also contrary to an early security proposal for Morsi to be in Alexandria on that day for some political activity, the president seemed set as the Weekly went to press to stay in Cairo, possibly at one of the presidential palaces on the outskirts of Heliopolis.
“He needs to be here and to find an exit from this mess that he has created during the last year. He has practically made the country bankrupt and has almost taken it to the verge of civil war,” said an intelligence source.
In one widely speculated scenario for the day of 29 June or of 1 July, Morsi, with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, would bow to some of the demands that have been repeatedly made by the opposition, the judiciary and the police. The latter groups have got more and more impatient with a president they never liked from the beginning and who has been trying, they complain, to impose Brotherhood members or sympathisers in key state posts.
This comes down to a three-point compromise that some government sources suggest has been put forward by the US ambassador in Cairo, who has been making a systematic attempt to support the president. The compromise would include removing the prime minister, getting rid of the prosecutor-general that Morsi assigned in non-constitutional fashion last autumn, and firing the minister of interior, who is dubbed “Morsi’s man” at the ministry in a pejorative reference to his excessive deference to the president.
As the Weekly went to press, news of a breakthrough was not forthcoming, with some sources suggesting that the sentiment at the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood was that if Morsi succumbed to the demands of the opposition under the pressure of the army it would make the minister of defence the effective ruler.
There seems to be only one other alternative at the beginning of the second year of Morsi’s presidency: confrontation. “It is either a deal or a confrontation, and it seems that the scenario of confrontation has not been defused by the appeal made by Al-Sisi for dialogue and compromise,” one commentator said.
 
THE CONFRONTATION CONTINUES: Confrontation is nothing new to Morsi’s presidency.
Last August, when the president decided to remove Tantawi as head of the army in the wake of the physical elimination of 16 guards on the borders with Gaza and Israel, Morsi picked on confrontation and received wide public support, essentially, as the head of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Diaa Rashwan, noted, because of the lack of popularity of the leading army officials among the revolutionary forces due to their implication in the SCAF.
The latter had been involved in political and humanitarian violations during the interim period, and they were unpopular due to the high hopes that some people, from the non-Islamist camp held out during the early weeks of Morsi’s first year in office.
According to many political analysts these hopes have died now, due to the failure of Morsi to live up to the promises he took upon himself to achieve in the first 100 days of his rule, including fixing chronic traffic and garbage-collecting problems and improving the quality of services. These added to his failure to live up to the promises he had made when he was lobbying for support in the second round of the presidential elections when he ran against Ahmed Shafik, a military man who was Mubarak’s last prime minister, and his stated desire for a reconciliatory and all-inclusive approach to governance.
Last autumn, Morsi entered into another confrontation, the biggest of last year, and, in the view of commentators like Rashwan, a serious blow to the confidence that many people had in him when he issued a constitutional declaration, later cut down under tough public pressure, that granted him provisional but extra-judicial powers. That was followed by yet another confrontation over the adoption of a controversial constitution, with around one fifth of illegible voters, amid consecutive withdrawals of liberals from an otherwise mostly Islamist drafting committee that was recently announced unconstitutional by no other than the Constitutional Court — itself party to a tug-of-war with the head of the state.
A couple of weeks ago Morsi entered into another confrontation with the opposition, which has been hard at work planning its impressive show of contempt on 30 June, when he attempted to show off his Islamist, including militant Islamist, support on two occasions: the conference on Syria that he addressed and a demonstration in his support that he spoke of but did not attend.
“He was showing off to his supporters, and he thought that people would be scared. But in fact they were only provoked, and now there are more people who are willing to join the 30 June demonstrations and fewer people who are willing to buy any compromise that he might offer,” said Randa, an activist.
Confrontations have been wittingly or unwittingly entered into by Morsi on the foreign front as well. Over the last year, he has confirmed the apprehensions of most of the Arab Gulf states, crucial economic supporters of Egypt, that he would prompt unrest in their neighbourhood.
The fallout with the United Arab Emirates, an undeniable supporter of Mubarak’s rule and one that tried to save him during the last days of the 25 January Revolution, started last summer with an exchange of accusations between UAE officials and the Brotherhood leadership about the planned intervention of the Cairo-based political Islam group in the affairs of this rich Gulf state. The confrontation ended last month with the referral of some Egyptian expatriates in the UAE on charges amounting to attempted espionage.
Morsi, who started his presidency on a positive footing with Iran, an arch-enemy of the Mubarak regime, is also ending the year with a confrontation that is taking on what commentators are qualifying as “catastrophic dimensions”, given that the president has chosen to bring to the surface the Shia versus Sunni rivalry in the Middle East. He evoked this during the beginning of his term in office while on his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia last summer when he said that Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the “custodians of Sunni Islam.”
This week, following heavy emphasis on Sunni-Shia confrontation during a speech on Syria, Morsi seemed to have given the go-ahead to a shocking and unprecedented lynching of four Egyptian Shia citizens. Repulsive YouTube images of the lynching awakened fears of civil inequality, especially among the Copts, who constitute the largest minority in the country and whose Cathedral came under unprecedented physical attack this year, not to mention the endless verbal attack by some of Morsi’s top followers against the Coptic patriarch. According to Rami Kamel, a Coptic activist, “it is terrifying. Copts have been attacked during the rule of Morsi and during the last year, and there have been failed attempts to put pressure on the Cathedral to prohibit Copts from taking part in the 30 June demonstrations. But this lynching of Egyptian Shias is very shocking.”
The anti-Shia incitement was made by Morsi and supporting Sunni clerics during an attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which is Shia in character, and it ended with the dramatic announcement of the severing of relations between Cairo and Damascus, supposedly to express dismay at the oppression al-Assad has been exercising against democracy protests begun in Syria two years ago.
 
FOREIGN POLICY WOES: “I could not believe my ears when I head that the president of Egypt was severing relations with Syria. This is the exact definition of doing the undoable. Egypt cannot sever its relations with Syria — this is a huge strategic miscalculation,” said one Egyptian diplomat. He added that to add insult to injury, the presidency had given very short notice to the Foreign Ministry to secure Egyptian diplomats in Damascus.
“Luckily our man was in Beirut for the day, and we had just about enough time to warn him about going back to Damascus,” the diplomat said.
An equal, maybe even more disruptive, foreign policy step was also taken by Morsi when he decided to personally attend to the challenge of the Ethiopian decision to divert part of the course of the Blue Nile, which passes though its territories and that grants Egypt over 85 per cent of its annual share of Nile Water, in order to construct the so-called Renaissance Dam.
This dam could negatively influence Egypt’s share of the river’s water and reduce the quality of the water available for irrigation purposes. Morsi called on some independent and Islamist political figures, including some associated with the Mubarak regime, for a brainstorming session on how to deal with challenge. The meeting was televised on air without prior alert being given to many participants, and many of them produced a disturbing flow of anti-Ethiopian, and, for that matter, anti-African, sentiments on air.
“It is extremely unfortunate, but we can try to work to reverse the situation from one of confrontation to a win-win situation for us and for the Ethiopians. However, the damage has been colossal, especially since it is unfortunately the impression of some Ethiopians that Egypt looks down upon them and upon Africa in general,” said Mohamed Idriss, Egyptian ambassador in Addis Ababa, who was hoping that a visit by the foreign minister to Ethiopia last week could contain some of the damage.
In many army, police and intelligence quarters, Morsi is held responsible for making “unforgivable mistakes” both on the home and foreign fronts, but the biggest worry is on the home front. In the words of one military source, “the army does not want to intervene in this political mess, but our patience is wearing very thin.” He added that “we cannot allow him to cause more damage than he has already done.”
According to these same sources, this damage was not done to serve national dignity interests. “Quite to the contrary, we are much more submissive before the US now than any time under the rule of Mubarak who I would never qualify as a man of considerable patriotism but who was indeed someone with clear red lines when it comes to national security interests,” said an Egyptian diplomat. He added, “in fact, we are now not just submissive to the US but we are also submissive to what one could call the US agents in the Middle East: Qatar and Turkey; it is pathetic really.”
For this and other diplomats, the Morsi presidency has been marked by yet another “unforgivable mistake”: a growing dislike of the Palestinians, in view of the assumed unconditional support that Hamas is said to be giving to Morsi. “In parallel to this, Egypt and Egyptians have forgotten all about Israel; it is as if Israel is not there; but Israel is very much there and it is very much acting to undermine the very few inches of territory that could have eventually been a place for the Palestinian state while Morsi had for good ended the threat that Hamas once was.”

ERODING POPULARITY: “What has he done for us? I keep asking this question and there is no answer. He has done absolutely nothing for us as Egyptians during his first year in office. We are having problems finding fuel for our cars. We are suffering recurrent and long electricity cuts. Some key medicines are hard to find, and the economy is so wrecked that there are worries about whether salaries will be paid or not,” said Hala, a pharmacist.
Having voted for Morsi herself in the second round of the elections in the hope that he would be able to deliver “at least on the basics,” Hala today laments that she ever voted for him. “Of course I would not have voted for Shafik. That would have been out of the question for me, but I could have stayed at home. This man is useless. He came to power when the country was faced with tough challenges, and he has made things much worse,” she added.
Hala is not a rare case either. Some Muslim Brotherhood members have acknowledged what they like to qualify as “a drop” in what used to be their overwhelming popularity under the rule of Mubarak, whose regime only allowed them a limited number of seats in parliament and no government posts at all.
For Hani, an engineer, “it is not only Morsi that we have to blame for the current situation but also Mubarak because had the Brotherhood been allowed to assume public office we would have all known the limitations of their often portrayed exceptional skills.”
“It is not just Morsi, but also the Muslim Brotherhood in general, that is the problem. We all know that it is not Morsi who is running the show, but that it is the Guidance Bureau and especially Khairat Al-Shater.”
Al-Shater is the Brotherhood’s second in command and effectively the movement’s strong man. An engineer who later went into business, this former leftist was supposed to be the original candidate of the Brotherhood for the presidency, but he could not join the presidential race as he was recently released from jail, where he had been sent many times under Mubarak’s rule, and this meant that there were legal obstacles confronting him.
Al-Shater has tried to keep a low profile, but inevitably his name has kept popping up, thus damaging an already shaky image of the president as “the spare” of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Brotherhood sources do not deny that Al-Shater has had a key role to play during the last year and even during Morsi’s presidential campaign. They argue that this is not unusual, since every president depends on a party or a group of supporters to lend him support. And they say that the nature of the role played by Al-Shater has been exaggerated by the media that, according to Khafagui, “was never willing to give Morsi the benefit of the doubt right from the beginning.”
In the minds of some, the fact that Morsi has failed to deliver is a problem, but the fact that the entire Muslim Brotherhood has failed to deliver and is not willing to let go is a worse problem. This has been prompting recurrent incidents of anti-Morsi and anti-Al-Shater criticism.
Today, the criticisms are not just of Morsi, Al-Shater and others, but instead they are of the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole and maybe also about Political Islam as a whole. In several governorates of Egypt, in lower and upper Egypt alike, Muslim Brotherhood quarters, and those of its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, have been repeatedly attacked. Most recently, members of the Brotherhood and their families have also been attacked for no other reason than being party to this group that is blamed by a considerable part of the population for the severe decline in living conditions, economic prospects and civil cohabitation.
In a rare remark last week, the nation’s top journalist-political commentator Mohamed Hassanein Heikal said in a TV interview that the last year had shown the lack of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to take responsibility for ruling the country and that the time had come for them to exit the stage for now.
On almost the following day, Mohamed Al-Baradei, the NSF leader, called on Morsi to resign. Al-Baradei said that there seemed no other path for Morsi to take, given his repeatedly broken promises of inclusiveness and his failed administration of a nation that had gone through a revolution in the hope of development rather than decline.

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