The Fate of Egypt

The Fate of Egypt:

Mohammad Morsi`s fall from grace has been spectacular. President of Egypt one day, imprisoned the next following an ultimatum issued by the military after large-scale protests at Tahrir Square. From being the poster boy of the Arab Spring, Egypt has regressed to a depressingly familiar scenario- a military coup.
Oh, but is it a military coup? US foreign aid to Egypt depends upon this- US laws prevent it from giving aid to regimes established via a military coup. And they seem to have found the perfect loophole- their laws don`t compel them to make an official finding regarding the status of the current regime. Ignorance is diplomatic bliss.
So where exactly did Morsi go wrong? And what does this development, coup or otherwise, mean for Egypt`s future? Answers to these questions can`t be broken down into grand narratives such as “triumph of the will of the people” or “the death of democracy”. Morsi`s ouster has been followed by violent protests calling for his reinstatement leading to deadly clashes. The bottom-line: there is no clear “will of the people”.
Let`s examine the events that led to this impasse:

The elections:

Following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the army had laid out the path for democracy by conducting elections which were largely considered to be free from serious malpractices.
In the first round of elections, the liberal vote was split mainly between Hamdeen Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh who won roughly 20.7% and 17.5% of the popular vote. This significantly benefitted Mohd. Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq (former Prime Minister of the Mubarak era) who reached the 2nd stage of polling with just 24.8% and 23.7% of the popular vote, respectively. Morsi went on to win the final stage of elections by garnering 52% of the votes.
The heavily fractured mandate meant that the Government needed to be inclusive in order to survive. That is where Morsi is accused of having failed the most. 

The opposition`s charge sheet:

1. Greater allegiance to Muslim Brotherhood than to the people-
He has appointed 7 governors from the Muslim Brotherhood. The most controversial was his appointment of a Gamaa Islamiyya member as Governor of Luxor, the province where the group had carried out a tourist massacre in 1997.
He also reneged on his promise to have Christian and female representation amongst his Vice Presidents.  
Pandering to your core voter base is a legitimate strategy in any functional democracy, but when you appoint perceived terrorists to govern their former crime scene, it makes the Tea-Party sound like an actual picnic.

2. November 2012 power grab-
The most polarizing decision during his presidency was the constitutional decree that sacked the prosecutor-general, immunized presidential decisions from judicial review and shielded the Islamist-dominated Shura council and the constituent assembly from dissolution.
To be fair, large parts of the judiciary are controlled by remnants of Mubarak`s era, and as such, this was an attempt to prevent judicial intervention into the process of drafting the constitution. The decree was withdrawn after mass protests, but the damage to his credibility was irreparable.
This was a month before the referendum on the new constitution. The entire process of drafting of the constitution was marred by allegations of unilateralism by the Brotherhood. Morsi`s allies blamed the uncooperative and fragmented nature of the opposition for the lack of sufficient dialogue.
Given the suspicion with which the Brotherhood was inevitably going to be viewed by a large section of the Egyptian populace, Morsi needed to have worked harder to prove his democratic credentials.

3. Failure on the economic front-

This particular criticism is relatively unfair, given that he inherited an economy in shambles due to the sustained period of protests at the end of Mubarak`s era. Reviving economic fundamentals and weeding out corruption built up over three decades requires time and sustained focus- Morsi was afforded neither. The sustained period of turmoil has hurt the tourism sector. The foreign currency reserves have reduced by more than half since Mubarak`s fall, and the inflation-rate has been threatening to reach double digits.
The rise in prices, food and fuel shortages, and the possibility of further reduction in subsidies as per the terms of an IMF loan, sparked the final round of protests leading to his ouster.

4. Human Rights-

He won plaudits internationally for negotiating a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. But his anti-Semitic rants, the lack of accountability for the deaths during the 2011 protests, the continuation of police brutality, the increase in sexual assaults on women, and the imprisonment of popular political satirist Bassem Youssef, all contributed to a growing sense of disaffection.

The fall

Tahrir square saw popular protests against the president earlier this summer, demanding reforms. The army sided with the protesters and eventually issued an ultimatum to Morsi: reform or be overthrown. The demands included restructuring the cabinet, significant constitutional amendments, and early elections. 
Morsi refused to negotiate under coercion and was duly overthrown. His replacement was a veteran member of the judiciary, Adly Mansour, who has served under both Mubarak and Morsi.
The role played by the USA, if any, remains unclear. The Muslim Brotherhood has openly accused the US of aiding a military coup. There have been rumours about US funded NGOs stirring the protests. But there`s been no concrete evidence as yet to suggest that the US has added another illustrious feather to its cap when it comes to subverting democracy.

The fallout

The eviction of Morsi led to a series of protests and deadly violence. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between the armed forces and the pro-Morsi protestors. The forced eviction of people “sitting-in” at Tahrir square at the end of the Eid celebrations caused a further escalation of violence. The situation has been deteriorating, and at the time of writing, a state of emergency had already been declared. A resolution seems far off. 

The implications

This is not the death of democracy in the Middle East. Not as long as there are elections in the near future and they are conducted fairly. The army has previously delivered on that promise. There is reason for hope.
At the same time, this isn`t simply a “victory of the masses”- there were popular protests asking for Morsi`s ouster, and now more protests asking for his reinstatement. A true victory has to be earned at the ballot box.
This is quite simply a concession that the path to a stable democracy will be long and messy.
A few consequences are almost guaranteed:

1. It could be quite some time before an elected Government successfully completes its term in office. Street politics have become a proven tool in Egyptian politics, and at the very least will be used to significantly obstruct, if not successfully overthrow the government.

2. A formidable third front, separate from the remnants of Mubarak`s regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, will develop in due course of time. This is the ideological front that spurred the Arab Spring. In the first round of elections they narrowly missed out due to the structural advantages of pre-existing grassroots outreach which the established players enjoy compounded by the inexperience at forming coalitions. 

3. “Radical Islamization” of the Egyptian constitution is unlikely to be sustainable. The current constitution is likely to be significantly re-drafted along more secular lines. That at least is the stated goal of the army, apart from holding fresh elections.

Patience is an essential feature of a successful democracy. Economic progress, security, law and order, transparency and a meritocracy free of corruption cannot be achieved hastily. Overthrowing a government after one year in power is unlikely to achieve progress.
At the same time, successive governments have to be more inclusive should they hope to survive.
Ultimately, the 2011 revolution has been successful in awakening the people to assert their rights, and in initiating a discourse about what ideals the Egyptian society should stand for. The mechanism for settling disagreements about the same remains a work in progress.


Souradip Sen

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