Saturday,24 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Saturday,24 March, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Just a cut-and-paste job?

President Mohamed Morsi’s first speech before the country’s legislative body has failed to impress his opponents and led to widespread fears about his intentions, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

Announcing the beginning of what he said was the end of the “long and extended transitional period” that followed the end of the three-decade rule of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2012 and ended with the adoption of Egypt’s new constitution in December, President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday addressed Egypt’s legislative body, the Shura Council.

This was elected over a year ago with a shockingly low turnout of eligible voters. It is predominantly made up of Islamists, despite the few non-Islamists recently appointed by President Morsi.

The speech was received with scorn by the president’s foes, little appreciation from his conditional supporters, and acclaim from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that support the regime.

In his by-now hallmark preaching style, Morsi included politically correct elements in his speech, praising the martyrs who had given their lives for the cause of a free and democratic Egypt and arguing that “Egypt is now living in an era where there is no place for tyranny, discrimination or a lack of social justice.”

Morsi stressed that “the people, and the people alone, is the source of all power” and that Egypt could not pick up the pieces after the 25 January Revolution except through the collective efforts of “all and not just some Egyptians”.

Observers said that these comments were designed to defuse arguments made by critics who have suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to run the state alone without the aid of other political forces.

The president promised the holding of free and fair elections to elect a new parliament “under judicial supervision,” though he did not refer to the question marks hanging over the recent referendum on the country’s new constitution. He reiterated a call for national dialogue between Islamist and liberal forces, though he did not describe the agenda for this dialogue, which the opposition has been demanding.

“It was all too general — it was as if he wasn’t saying anything. The concerns of the wider public, and I am not just talking about the political opposition, are well known to the president: a declining economy, the political hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, and the violation of the separation of powers. But he did not address any of these concerns, not in a coherent way anyway,” said activist Rami Kamel.

In Kamel’s view, Morsi’s speech was “only a cut-and-paste job from Mubarak’s speeches before parliament, with a few Quranic verses and metaphors added here and there.”

Like Mubarak, Kamel said, Morsi had offered a rosy picture of a political and economic situation that the vast majority of the country has yet to see. Morsi dedicated a good one-third of his close to 20-minute speech reviewing what he called “indicators of modest socio-economic development secured despite the challenging economic situation”, which he attributed to “a lack of political stability”.

However, Morsi’s view of the economy was soon contradicted by a statement issued by the Central Bank of Egypt, whose governor, according to informed sources, has been asking to be replaced in view of the daunting challenges he has said cannot be met if the president continues to fail to meet the political opposition at least half-way.

For Samer Attallah, a professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, the contradiction between the economic reality described in the Central Bank statement and the economic picture offered by Morsi was not the worst thing about the speech.

“The worst thing, I would say, is that Morsi is pursuing the same approach as Mubarak. He is talking about indicators, and even if these indicators are true, which is not the case, they are not sufficient in and of themselves to give an accurate assessment of the economic situation.”

“Morsi is pursuing the same economic choices as Mubarak. In fact, he is counting on more or less the same group of people [or their look-alikes] as a source of economic policies,” Attallah said.

For Fayka, a 77-year-old Coptic woman who lives in a shared house in a poorer neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cairo, “life is much, much worse than it was before. During the days of Mubarak, life was difficult, really difficult, but now it is impossible. May God extend His hand to help us,” she said.

Living on the financial aid provided by the Coptic Church, this woman, whose three married sons earn less than what they need to cover their own family expenses, was not very worried when Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, was elected in last year’s elections.

“I thought nothing would happen to us because it would be unrealistic for them to hurt the Copts or burn churches”. What mattered to her most, and what she was secretly hoping for, but now knows will not happen, is that the “Muslim Brotherhood would distribute food for everyone.”

During its years as a harshly persecuted opposition group, the Brotherhood used to reach out to the poor, including the Copts, to court support among the population. Fayka herself said that she had received installments of food over the past few years from the Brotherhood.

Not having heard the president’s speech herself, she said that all she had heard from others was that he “had promised nothing. People say things will become more expensive. Everything will become more expensive. Morsi did not deny that this would happen,” she said.

For historian Suleiman Shafik, Morsi was not in the business of affirming or denying anything. “Those who were expecting Morsi to deny or affirm anything were mistaken because in his Shura Council speech Morsi was dealing with Egyptians not as citizens, but rather as subjects.”

“He has not been acting as the head of the executive in a nascent democracy who feels obliged to share a clear and realistic picture of the political and economic situation with the people as a whole,” Shafik said. “Morsi is out of touch with the reality of Egypt as a modern state. Even when he talks about the modern state, his speeches are in fact about the bygone past.”

For activist Hadiya Hamed, “it has become pointless to listen to what Morsi has to say, but still I felt I should follow his speech to see what he had to offer at this critical moment in the country’s political and economic difficulties. However, he said nothing about what is going on. He ignored all the key political developments, from the complaints about the referendum to the fight between the presidency and the judiciary. He spoke as if he were speaking about another country.”

However, political analyst Mohamed Agati argued that Morsi may have been deliberately deviating from the tough questions in order to promote an upbeat sentiment among an otherwise frustrated public. “President Morsi acted like those doctors who keep telling their patients that everything will be ok and all they have to do is to pray to God for healing,” he said.

Finding the president’s speech to be “predominantly patriarchal in content and style”, Agati said the statements made on Sunday by Prime Minister Hisham Kandil followed “the same approach”.

“This means one thing — that the president and the government will continue to act the way they have been acting, which is the recipe for a serious economic hiccup and continued political tension,” he said.

What was most alarming for Agati was not the “confused economic picture that the president tried to portray”, but the indicators of “his next attack”.

“Morsi did not address the judiciary much, because he thinks he won the fight with them, having reworked the Supreme Constitutional Court and changed the prosecutor-general. Instead, he spoke in loaded language about the media and civil society, which tells us who will come next.”

“If a president undermines the judiciary and the media and civil society, then he will have undermined all the pillars of a democratic regime. This was the worst thing about Morsi’s speech — that the president seems set to try to quell the media and civil society.”

In his speech, Morsi spoke of the need to “free the media of its reliance on corrupt funds,” an allegation that his aides have often leveled in the face of critics in the country’s independent press and on the satellite TV channels.

Morsi also spoke about the need for new regulations to regulate civil society. A debate is already underway about new regulations regarding public protests and demonstrations that are being introduced in a bill that has solicited much criticism from civil society groups.

“This approach is not sustainable,” Agati said. “If Morsi is determined to walk the path that his Shura Council speech indicates, then he is fermenting a new revolution that will cut short his rule.”

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