Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

All the president’s men?

President Mohamed Morsi is facing growing opposition from a most unexpected source, his own allies, writes Omayma Abdel-Latif

Al-Ahram Weekly

When Mohamed Mahsoub, minister of legal affairs, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Hisham Kandil last week, many were baffled by the move, some, particularly from opposition circles, suggesting that it was only tactical in nature.  
Mahsoub, a leading figure of the Wasat Party and a darling of the media, was among the key figures that crafted Egypt’s new constitution, and he had remained a staunch defender of the process and of president Mohamed Morsi’s role in it until the very end.  
His surprise resignation, coupled with harsh criticism directed against the Kandil government from across the Islamist spectrum, suggest that all is not well between the president and his allies.
Morsi seems to be not only making new enemies with every step he takes, but also losing his political allies, particularly from within the Islamist rank and file.
For the first time since his coming to power last June, Morsi’s allies have decided to go public with their criticisms of the president’s handling of the nation’s political crises.
A string of events last week suggested that simmering discontent among Islamist forces had now reached a tipping point. Two key developments triggered a wave of criticism among Morsi’s closest allies: keeping Kandil in place as prime minister and the appointments to the Shura Council.
In his resignation letter, Mahsoub cited Morsi’s decision to keep Kandil and conduct a limited cabinet reshuffle as the primary causes behind his resignation. A Wasat Party statement, issued shortly after the resignation, also reserved harsh criticism for the Kandil cabinet, saying it had “failed to resolve any political or financial problems”.
 The statement proposed the formation of a transitional national unity government. Some analysts have suggested the move was meant to put pressure on Kandil to increase the party’s share in the cabinet, but party sources insisted that the Wasat “will not take part in any government headed by Kandil, even if offered more posts.”
Other Islamists joined in the criticisms of the Kandil government, with Al-Masryoun, an Islamist-oriented daily, saying in an editorial that the Islamists were “in shock” at Morsi’s unexpected decision to keep Kandil in office and carry out only a limited cabinet reshuffle.
Aboud Al-Zomor, a member of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s council, criticised the Kandil government for “its failure to score any achievement on any of the key challenges facing the country, including the economic crisis and the restoration of security and the police.”
Only a national salvation government, Al-Zomor said, could deal with the difficult conditions the country was facing. “We will deal with the Kandil cabinet as an interim cabinet until the forthcoming parliamentary elections,” he added.
The silent crisis between the presidency and some of its Islamist allies belies the dilemmas facing the latter. On the one hand, they do not want to appear as merely the followers of the largest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and they have been striving to assert their independence from it.
On the other hand, while they are aware of the Brotherhood’s exclusionary attitudes, they do not want to be held responsible for the fragmentation and break-up of the Islamist rank and file.
The current state of political polarisation that has lumped all the Islamists in one basket and pitted them against a non-Islamist opposition front is only complicating the situation.
As a result, Morsi has been caught between a rock and a hard place. He has to tend to the concerns and aspirations of his own constituency, but he is equally expected to accommodate the political ambitions and needs of his allies who also have their own constituencies to cater for.
The situation is further complicated by the fragmentation of the Islamist forces, and there are already five parties embracing a Salafist platform.
The Nour Party’s former chief and founder, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, is forming a new party, the Watan. Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, another Islamist figure, is setting up a new party, the Ummah.
Two other Salafist parties, Al-Fadila and Al-Shaab (the political wing of the Al-Gabha Al-Salafiya) said they would join ranks with Abu Ismail’s new party. This fracturing of the Salafist political landscape can only benefit the Muslim Brotherhood, which will emerge as the leading Islamist party unless it too faces similar defections.
What such crises suggest is that the Islamists are not a monolithic group, and that they are divided into factions that diverge on approaches to major issues. The Islamist consensus over the Kandil cabinet was broken by none other than the Nour Party, for example.
In what many have viewed as an opportunistic move, this Salafist Party has expressed its willingness to participate in the new government and has even submitted a list of proposed candidates for certain ministries.
The party has been reeling from an internal crisis following the resignation of its head, together with some 150 of its members, some of them leading figures such as spokesperson Yosri Hamad.
Deciding to throw its weight behind the Kandil cabinet, in contrast to the wider Islamist position, has been seen as an attempt by the party to show that it still stands on solid ground and that it has not been affected by the defections.
Party officials spent a good portion of last week downplaying the defections. Party spiritual leader Yasser Burhami said that they did not amount to one per cent of the party’s membership.
Following the formation of Kandil’s first cabinet last August, the Nour protested at what it viewed as its meagre share in the cabinet, the party only receiving the Ministry of Environment portfolio.
Another controversial issue that has triggered the wrath of supporters of President Morsi has been the appointments to the Shura Council.
According to amendments to the Shura Council law (Law 37/1972) introduced by the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) last year, the council consists of 370 members, a third of whom should be appointed by the president.
Morsi has appointed 90 members to the Shura Council, which will have the power to issue legislation until the election of a new parliament. However, the appointments have been disappointing to Morsi’s Islamist allies.
During national dialogue sessions attended by representatives from the Islamist forces, pledges were made that the appointees would not include members of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) or the Nour Party in order that they could allow for a broader representation of other political forces.
However, according to Taha Al-Sherif of the Al-Binaa wal-Tanmiya (Construction and Development Party), the political wing of the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, Morsi “did not honour this commitment,” reflecting what Al-Sherif described as “the Brotherhood’s attitude of taking over everything.”  
Al-Sherif said that party members felt betrayed by the Brotherhood’s attitude. “There has been injustice repeatedly inflicted on Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political wing,” Al-Sherif explained.
His party, he continued, should have received 10 appointees in the Shura Council. Instead, it had three. One party member lamented the concessions made by the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, of which, he said, the Brotherhood and the president had been the greatest benefactors.
The party had given up seats in the Constituent Assembly as part of mediation efforts between the Salafis and Brotherhood, he said. “We were the first to throw our weight behind the incumbent, Morsi, when others [the Nour Party] were making deals with the competing candidates,” Al-Sherif said.
Had it not been for its desire to preserve the unity of the Islamist rank and file, Al-Sherif said, the party would have rejected the Shura Council quota. A review of the party’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is now underway, possibly affecting future plans for an electoral alliance.

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