Egypt at Another Crossroads

Egypt, arguably the most important Arab state, again finds itself at a crossroads, with growing public unrest challenging the increasingly authoritarian rule of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi. Even some observers who had hopes for Morsi are alarmed, as Adil E. Shamoo notes.

By Adil E. Shamoo

Egypt is rapidly approaching its most acute political and economic crisis since the 2011 revolution that swept dictator Hosni Mubarak from power.

Poverty is at an all-time high of 25 percent, with youth unemployment at a record 40 percent. Foreign currency reserves are on a rapid decline. President Mohamed Morsi is losing the most important commodity he possesses, the people’s confidence and trust. Conditions seem ripe for either a new uprising from below or a new military coup from above.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. (Photo credit: Jonathan Rashad)

Instead of cementing his new regime’s democratic credentials, Morsi has undermined the legitimacy of his rule in word and deed. For example, immediately after collaborating with President Barack Obama to broker a ceasefire in Gaza last November, Morsi issued a decree giving himself sweeping powers not even enjoyed by Mubarak. If Morsi thought his usefulness to the Obama administration would persuade Washington to look the other way during his power grabs, the administration has done little to correct him.

Regime critics have held massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square and in several other cities. Although many Christians and secularists have joined the recent demonstrations, the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators have been Muslims, with most of the women in Tahrir Square donning headdresses.

Yet in language often used by dictators and tyrants to slander their critics, Morsi has labeled these demonstrations the work of “infiltrators,” “thugs,” and “terrorists.” Moreover, he has unleashed the police and his supporters on the demonstrators, resulting in clashes where several have been killed and hundreds wounded. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have engaged in violence against their Muslim brethren to prevent them from expressing their moderate and liberal views.

In light of the recent unrest, it’s increasingly difficult to overlook the illiberal currents at work in Egypt’s constitutional process. The drafting of the constitution was controlled mostly by the Muslim Brotherhood and some of its Islamist allies. In order to curry favor with the military leadership, they imbued the military with arguably greater powers than it enjoyed even under Mubarak.

The new constitution gives the military seven out of 15 members of the council that has the power to declare war and control the secret military budget. Among other illiberal provisions, the constitution singles out “the duties of a woman,” allows military trials of civilians under certain conditions, and fails to guarantee religious freedoms. The voters approved the new constitution by a considerable margin, but results were clouded by a boycott from opponents. The majority of urban and educated voters opposed the new constitution.

In the past, I have been very optimistic about the future of Egypt’s revolution. I continued to be optimistic when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power through free and democratic elections. I overlooked some of the more inartful statements and acts by Brotherhood leaders as part of the democratic struggle on the bumpy road to full democracy. With some exceptions, Egyptians seemed to agree.

But now Morsi has to prove himself worthy of that trust. He must push the next parliament into amending the constitution to give complete and equal freedom to Egyptians regardless of gender or religion, reduce the number of military members in the national defense council, and bring the military budget under the auspices of the parliament. Morsi should take steps to ensure the safety and full participation of the country’s nearly 15 million Coptic Christians, and he must stop harassing opposition media and non-profit organizations.

Morsi still has an opportunity to become a historic leader for the people of Egypt and the Arab world. But to do it, he’ll have to free himself from Mubarak’s dark shadow and start acting like the president of all Egyptians.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of Equal Worth When Humanity Will Have Peace. He can be reached at [email protected].

3 comments for “Egypt at Another Crossroads

  1. Michael Collins
    February 16, 2013 at 03:26

    With all due respects sir, how could you think this about the Egyptian presidential election: ” I continued to be optimistic when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power through free and democratic elections.”

    The election of Morsi was made possible by the removal of leading candidates from the presidential ballot. Morsi was at 8% with the Nassarist Party with the two leading candidates at around 30%. They were removed from the ballot, leaving Morsi with a clear shot at winning. His election was artificial.

    The turnout for the presidential election was estimated by outside observers to be around 15% to 20% of the total population. How is this a democratic election.

    The fact cited above are in this article:

    The Muslim Brotherhood could only get a 36% turnout for the constitutional vote.

    They are failures. Morsi is a failure. The election process was marred by the elimination of leading candidates and the constitution was ratified by just 2/3rds of 36% of the eligible voters.

    Any hope in Morsi’s candidacy and movement at any point required ignoring the facts at hand.

  2. Dennis Berube
    February 14, 2013 at 21:39

    Make no mistake about it, the main reason Morsi is facing a revolution is due to his sell out to the IMF last year. This has caused the cost of basic living needs of average people to skyrocket far worse than under Mubarak. Arabs need to stop being fooled by the Muslim (Saudi) Brotherhood and get Hamdeen Sabahi elected in the tradition of Nasser.

  3. Hillary
    February 13, 2013 at 20:48

    Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has to go after overstepping the mark in his recent power grab.

    He will not be forgiven so it is best for all concerned that he step down ASAP

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