Morsi takes control of Egypt, but on behalf of whom?

By Khadija Patel 25 June 2012

In scenes reminiscent of the uprisings that overthrew Hosni Mubarak last January, Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted in celebration as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was officially declared Egypt’s president-elect. But not all of Egypt is contained in that one Cairo square. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Morsi’s victory over Hosni Mubarak’s former lackey, Ahmed Shafiq, was marginal – a couple of percentage points, around 800,000 votes.  Yes, it is a victory for the Brotherhood and their man, but the final result also demonstrates the depth of the fault lines dividing Egypt. 

To many Egyptians, the Brotherhood must still be treated with suspicion and up to a few minutes before the official announcement was made, a Brotherhood presidency still appeared improbable. There were enough rumblings of a potential civil war to believe the military council may have taken it upon itself to cook the results in favour of Shafiq. And yet, amazingly they did not. After a maddeningly long defence of the integrity of the results, Morsi was the winner. The Muslim Brotherhood was the winner. 

Yet Morsi’s victory would not have been possible without the support he garnered from the leftists and liberals who voted against Shafiq rather than for Morsi or the Brotherhood. His victory, then, is not solely a victory for hard-line Brotherhood supporters, it is a victory for everybody who opposed the remnants of the old regime. 

The Egyptian people appeared capable enough of reining in their differences on Sunday evening, but the calm did not deter the same old doubts of the Brotherhood’s commitments to plurality from resurfacing. Is Egypt set to become another Saudi Arabia – a place where women are second-class citizens and religious plurality a crime? The Brotherhood have continuously affirmed their commitment to an inclusive Egypt, but suspicion of them and of their true motives has seen this commitment repeatedly doubted. 

So when Morsi addressed Egyptians on Sunday night, he gave little indication of what form his government would take or how indeed he would co-operate with the military without being subservient to them, but he was at pains to reach out to all Egyptians. 

“I call on you, great people of Egypt … to strengthen our national unity,” he said, adding that national unity “is the only way out of these difficult times.” Morsi’s speech was not so much a declaration of victory, or a challenge to the ruling military to loosen its grip on power, as an attempt to assuage fears that his rise to power would exacerbate a polarised society. 

As much as the rest of the world will be watching the comings and goings of Morsi’s presidency to ascertain how exactly he will reconcile political Islam with the secular Egyptian state, the real test of his leadership will lie in his ability to rescue a failing economy. Investors, like tourists, have shunned Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster last year. According to Bloomberg, Egypt’s five-year credit default risk jumped 68 basis points last week to 723, the highest level since December 2008. 

Simply put, Egypt is among the 10 riskiest credits in the world. Exactly how Morsi restores economic growth, creates jobs and restores a feel-good sentiment into the market will determine whether he remains the Egyptian president. And yet, in his acceptance speech on Sunday night, he was happy to be held accountable to the will of the people, insisting that Egyptians should no longer support him if he fails their mandate. 

Morsi’s message then was to emphasise the need for unity among the Egyptian people, while stressing his commitment to achieving the goals of the revolution – freedom, liberty and bread for all. He implored his countrymen to trust him but at the same time to forgive his shortcomings, knowing well that the road ahead will not be easy. 

But even as he spoke, Egyptians cringed at his lack of charisma. He certainly is no orator and, as a 60-year-old rocket scientist, he is an unlikely hero of the Egyptian revolution that was purported to have carried the cares of a disenfranchised youth. 

Still, there’s a symbolic victory for the revolution in the election of a president – one whose only ties to the previous regime is his history as a political prisoner. Egypt has elected its first civilian head of state – a tentative, concrete step towards influencing a more democratic Egypt. 

Morsi must know that as long as the military disappears from the streets and the corridors of power, his presidency remains a great farce. The military have congratulated him and he was conciliatory towards them in his speech, but for Egypt to go forward and for Morsi to be more than a ceremonial head of state the military’s grip on power must be loosened. 

On Friday, Morsi gave a speech in which he rejected the Supreme Court’s dissolution of parliament, which had been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. And though he renounced his Brotherhood membership on Sunday, in the interests of building a government of national unity, his public disavowal of his links to the Brotherhood will not deter him from fighting the Brotherhood fight.

The Brotherhood believes the court had the right to find that a third of the seats, set aside for independents, had been improperly filled by party-backed candidates but, they say, the executive decision of what exactly to do about that should have been left to the president and not the courts. Morsi has also rejected the military constitutional amendments designed to curtail the president’s powers until a new constitution is written.

It is in writing the new constitution, setting the rules to which Egypt and he himself will be held accountable, that Morsi may actually demonstrate his commitment to protecting the rights of minorities in Egypt. He has the opportunity to ensure the construction of the constitution is the product of an inclusive process, a process that acknowledges Egypt’s divisions and differences and makes space for them too. 

He will have to ensure that unpopular but progressive individual rights are accommodated. And then, perhaps, he may take a lesson from South Africa – he must know that the mere semblance of democracy does not erode the injustices, inequalities and errors that fermented into the ugly reality that it is. He must remember the sentiment that awarded him Egypt’s highest office, lest he grows busy with securing his own power and his party’s privileges above the needs of his people. DM

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Photo: A supporter of Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi kisses his picture during a celebration of his victory at the election at Tahrir Square in Cairo June 24, 2012. (REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)


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