Egypt: Better Had He Stumbled on His Own

In this assessment of the Muslim Brothers’ brief rule of Egypt, Maghreb Emergent suggests that Mohamed Morsi was a failed president, but his early removal will allow the Brotherhood off the hook.

Two legitimacies are confronting one another in Egypt: the legitimacy of the street and the legitimacy of the ballot box. President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood organization that brought him to power, and the Salafis who support him, all cling to the legitimacy of the ballot box. For them, the abdication of the ‘Rais‘ is out of the question. He got an ample majority of the votes in a credible election, and he has the right to remain in his post until the end of his mandate.

For the opposition, the formidable mobilization that has put millions of people on the street on the 30th of June, served as a referendum against Morsi. A chief of state rejected by such a large portion of the population cannot remain in his position. He must resign and let the people choose [a replacement], the opposition says. On a political and symbolic level, this argument carries weight, but on a juridical level, it has no value at all. A president is not obliged to resign if the population takes to the streets to oppose his policies. In fact it is in moments of adversity that the great political figures show themselves.

But in Egypt’s present power struggle, the stakes have changed. Mr. Morsi’s adversaries have put on the pressure, and have succeeded with a mobilization that surpassed their hopes. They have gained popular legitimacy, though it remains very theoretical, since they have no defined political program, nor a way to impose one. More importantly, if elections were organized in the short term, nothing suggests that they would win them. On the contrary, though he might lose some ground in comparison with the last election [in 2012], Mr. Morsi might well win again, relying on the same foundations that brought him to power already.

Only one country has gone through a similar experience: Venezuela. Under pressure from an opposition strongly supported by the United States, Hugo Chavez drove his adversaries to their knees by going through a confirmatory referendum halfway through his term. Sure of himself, having decided to play the democratic game all the way, Chavez brilliantly passed the test, taking his opponents even farther along in the contest of democracy.

Mohamed Morsi though lives in a different world: that of the Muslim Brothers. He has closed himself into a very narrow political and ideological ghetto, commits endless gaffes, and exhibits a surprising amateurishness. Certainly inexperience may play a role in his errors. But the man has nevertheless fallen far short of what was expected of him. He has not demonstrated the caliber to run a country such as Egypt.

All of his energy seems to have been taken up by his desire to exercise power. Under pressure by the opposition, watched by the Army, thwarted by the judiciary, surveilled by the United States, which nevertheless played an important role in making him president, he spent an entire year trying to take power. Without really succeeding.

Caught in this trap, he has attempted nothing on an economic level, while Egypt has stifled. He barely obtained loans from the IMF that saved the Egyptian economy from asphyxiation, but showed none of the dynamism necessary to relaunch the economy, not even to the extent of extolling economic liberalism while reinforcing social conservatism, as the Turks of the [ruling Islamist]AKP have done. A sign of this absence of direction: he did not succeed in defining a clear way forward for the key tourism sector, vital to the Egyptian economy, but criticized by Egyptian Islamists as a source of moral degeneracy.

The events of June 30 put Mr. Morsi’s back to the wall. The Army’s ultimatum, giving him 48 hours to find a consensus solution, made the situation worse. Mohamed Morsi could not accept such an order, which would have signified his submission to the Army. But he could not oppose it either, because he lacked the means. Nor was he capable of counterattacking, of taking political initiative to resolve the situation. He lacked the caliber. He showed this Tuesday afternoon: he did not react to the substance of the army’s communique, merely contenting himself with rejecting it because he had not been consulted before it was published!

As well, Mr. Morsi has not understood that Egypt cannot be governed in the name of half the population against the other half. He has conducted himself as if he were the president of the Muslim Brotherhood, not the president of all Egyptians. Such an error will not be forgiven, even if in this instance his adversaries have not made the task easy for him, and even if the army, with its regular intrusions, helped muddle the game.

A final consolation for Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brothers: they can always claim that their experience did not play out, that they did not have the time to carry out their project, and that they were judged for a year’s administration, while their adversaries had a century to fail. With this argument, the Muslim Brothers will always s be able to entertain the fantasy of a political project that does not exist. And it will be their adversaries who have rendered them an immense service. In preventing the Muslim Brothers from completing their own failure, their adversaries will have saved them from sinking. And in a certain way, it is their adversaries, hastily seeking to take power, who risk saving Morsi and his followers.

Abed Charef