Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1123, 22-28 November 2012-

Ahram Weekly

Realpolitik hits home

The president’s reputation for competence has come under unprecedented attack, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

It has been one of the worst weeks so far for President Mohamed Morsi. Day after day, at home and abroad, he has faced challenges that together place his position, the entire project of political Islam and some of Egypt’s basic national interests, at risk.
The most troubling problem took the form of a human tragedy when, on Saturday morning, a train hit a school bus in Assiut governorate killing 51 children. It prompted Egyptians who subscribe neither to Morsi’s camp nor that of his political opponents to take to the streets and question whether the president is up to the responsibilities of his office.
The Assiut drama coincided with a major foreign policy test. The Israeli aggression on Gaza which started late last week was growing in intensity. Demands that Morsi show more resolve in supporting the already impoverished and besieged Strip were never going to be contained by the president’s prompt decision to summon Egypt’s ambassador back from Tel Aviv or send his prime minister to Gaza in a remarkable show of solidarity. Yet at the same time public opinion was demanding he do “more for Gaza” Morsi was facing intense US pressure to persuade Hamas to halt all acts of resistance even as Israel’s aggression continued.
According to informed political sources, Morsi was trying to bridge the gap between the demands of both sides.
“He was trying to pursue a ceasefire and gave clear demands for the intelligence chief to work with the Israelis and with Hamas leaders on the matter and meanwhile was asking state-run media to promote the cause of a ceasefire; it is not easy because he has to worry about relations with the US especially now that we are trying to get a deal on a much needed loan from the International Monetary Fund,” said one.
A truce seems to be in the offing. By the time US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in the Middle East for talks with Israeli and Egyptian leaders details of the deal will have been finalised and an end to hostilities announced. But a source close to the negotiating team says this will not be an end to Washington’s demands over Gaza.
“The Americans want us to work on a permanent long term truce. But the Palestinians will only agree to a permanent truce if the siege Israel has imposed since 2007 is lifted completely, something the Israelis will not accept.”
Without a long term ceasefire Morsi knows that any truce remains fragile. The resistance will seek more arms, mostly through the tunnels constructed beneath Gaza’s border with Egypt. Washington’s criticism of Egypt’s failure to secure Sinai and pressure for tighter border measures will intensify.
The Gaza-Sinai dilemma is already causing rifts between Morsi and the military whose top brass are increasingly questioning the competence of Egypt’s first elected civilian president to oversee military operations aimed at curbing the activities of Jihadi Islamist groups in Sinai.
“These are not easy days for this relationship and it does not look like the perpetuation of problems in Sinai will help,” says a recently retired military officer. The confrontation between police and army officers in New Cairo on Monday evening following an argument between a police officer and a military police officer is symptomatic “of the state of agitation among army officers”.
Police-army clashes were unfolding in New Cairo when the police were already battling civilian demonstrators in the heart of the city as protesters gathered to commemorate the 19 November 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud Street confrontations. At the same time the president was receiving reports from Egyptian embassies in several Western capitals conveying unease over the president’s decision to absent himself from the ordination of the new patriarch of the Coptic Church and the withdrawal of non-Islamist members of the Constituent Assembly — including Church representatives — in protest against what they claimed were attempts to steamroll through a constitution that would undermine any chance of a civil state.
On top of everything else the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood, worried about the impact of public perceptions of the president on their Islamist project, is demanding Morsi act quickly to fix what they increasingly see as problems in both his image and performance.
“Morsi has to act, and he has to act fast because otherwise some of the problems will get out of hand,” says commentator and sociologist Nader Fergani.
The perception that Morsi is not on top of things is growing among the public, argues Fergani. “And it is becoming increasingly clear the president is not acting to meet the demands of the people or those of the 25 January Revolution but rather to strengthen the hold of Islamists — whether the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis — on power.”
It is, says Fergani, a dynamic that could easily backfire as sympathy shifts away from the Islamist camp and national interests are compromised.
For Salafi leader Ashraf Thabet the share of vote secured by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the next parliamentary elections will clarify whether Morsi has sustained serious damage to his image, while the Salafi and other Islamist parties’ share will reveal to what extent this damage has undermined the public’s trust in the whole project of political Islam.
Thabet believes it is in the interests not just of political Islam or the Muslim Brotherhood’s but of the entire nation to embrace a more participatory decision-making process.
“I have reservations about the way the president is running the state but my main concern is that things aren’t being done in an inclusive enough way. The political battle could have been postponed, at least for now,” Thabet says, adding that it is not too late for Morsi to do a U-turn.
Wafdist Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, a cabinet member during the transitional phase, is not convinced that Morsi would be willing to share power.
“Most things he has done so far indicate the opposite,” says Abdel-Nour. “But if Morsi is serious about ending the decline he needs to take parallel steps: a national dialogue to create a consensual agenda on the way forward and a national unity government in which all political trends are represented.”
  For lawyer and activist Nasser Amin, “the almost non-existent administrative and leadership skills that Morsi has displayed are compounding the sad situation that Mubarak left the country in.”
While Amin acknowledges the problems Morsi inherited when it comes to issues such as revamping the dilapidated railway system, the chaos that has dogged the writing of a new constitution cannot be blamed on the Mubarak-era legacy.
“The trouble is Morsi thinks he can run things in a unilateral style, just like Mubarak did. He cannot. Following the 25 January Revolution no one can dictate to the people and then expect them not to react.”  
The only alternative for Morsi, Amin argues, is to “form a real Islamist government”. He should appoint the best people the Islamist movement has; then, at least “political Islam will face a real test.”

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