Mursi Branded Pharaoh as New Egypt Gives Way to Protests

Mursi Branded Pharaoh as New Egypt Gives Way to Palace Protests
Egyptian protesters run away from tear gas outside the presidential palace during a demonstration against President Mohamed Morsi's decree widening his powers in Cairo, Egypt. Photographer: Mahmoud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images

On the day before he was sworn in on June 30 as Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president, Mohamed Mursi walked onto a stage in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and threw open his blazer.

There was no bulletproof vest under his shirt. To deafening chants of “We love you, Mursi,” from tens of thousands of people, he yelled back he feared “no one but God,” promising a new Egypt, born of last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, with dignity and justice for all.

Five months later and Mursi is hearing the same chants of “Leave, leave” that drove Mubarak out. Five people were killed last night as his supporters clashed with protesters. To his critics, the domestic pride and acclaim he secured on trips and, most recently, with a cease-fire accord between Hamas and Israel have been spent. Protesters oppose a Mursi edict putting his decisions above court review and his approval of a draft charter that an Islamist-dominated panel rushed to finish.

“Mursi thinks he is our god or pharaoh,” Shaima Ali, 26, said over the din of chants outside the palace. “Mursi has managed in five months to become hated by everyone but the Islamists. It took Mubarak 30 years and even then he still had some supporters.”

More than 400 people were also injured during the overnight violence near the presidential palace, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing the country’s health ministry.

Egypt’s benchmark stock index slumped 12 percent in the week after Mursi’s decrees. The Egyptian pound, subject to a managed float, has fallen 1.4 percent this year to 6.1170 a dollar yesterday, near the lowest level in eight years.


“He over-promised and under-delivered, he has no real successes,” said Ibrahim el-Hodeiby, a researcher at Egyptian research institute House of Wisdom. Mursi “came with very high hopes.”

Mursi, 61, was a compromise choice to lead Egypt. Helped to power by the organizational skill of the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition movement under Mubarak that distributed food and medical services in the poorest districts, he spent time in prison in 2006 for his political activities and was arrested again during the anti-Mubarak uprising.

The Brotherhood had first named its chief strategist, Khairat el-Shater, for the job before he was excluded by election officials. Mursi defeated Mubarak’s last premier, Ahmed Shafik, for the presidency with 51.7 percent of votes after a boost by youth activist groups who hated the former premier more than they feared the Brotherhood. About half of Egypt’s eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot.

King Farouk

As president, Mursi pledged to be the voice of all Egyptians. He took over a nation mired in its worst economic crisis in decades brought about by the 2011 uprising. The budget deficit for the fiscal year that ends in June will be 10.4 percent of GDP, above the government’s 7.6 percent target.

Successive Egyptian rulers have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood to varying degrees since a group of officers overthrew King Farouk in 1952. While Mursi came to power promising to end the restrictions associated with Mubarak and ensure press freedoms -- so long as journalists are unbiased in their reporting -- his critics say he hasn’t done anything of the sort.

Shroud Protest

A female news anchor this month appeared on state television carrying a shroud, a traditional symbol of a willingness to die for a cause, as she blasted state media coverage under Mursi. Her show aired days after Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, was packed again, this time with demonstrations against Mursi. Protesters took their opposition to his doorstep on Dec. 4 as they descended on his palace, yelling: “dictator, dictator.” Last night, clashes broke out between his supporters and opponents outside the palace.

“To demand the departure of a president who has been elected in a fair vote is to exclude and challenge the will of at least 12 million citizens,” Vice President Mahmoud Mekki told reporters in Cairo last night. “This cannot be.”

Mursi’s approach to governance reflects his background as an engineer, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“He’s focused, he’s disciplined, he’s been consistently underestimated,” Alterman said. “He’s very task oriented and does not invest a lot in the qualitative aspects of governance.”

Slowing Growth

The economy he inherited is struggling to rebound as ubiquitous protests and strikes undercut productivity while curbing tourism and foreign investment, two key revenue sources. International reserves remain more than 50 percent below their levels before the start of the uprising.

Economic growth slowed to 2.2 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June from about 5 percent in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Egypt last month reached a preliminary accord with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan. Officials have said the agreement, which is due to be reviewed by the IMF board this month, is necessary to boost investor confidence and unlock more funds.

International Crisis Group Middle East analyst Yasser El-Shimy said Mursi’s decrees were “providing the wrong answer for a real problem, or using a chainsaw when a scalpel was needed.”

‘Complete Chaos’

“The legitimacy of the Egyptian president and how people view him depend on domestic, not foreign, policy,” said Ashraf el-Sherif, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “The constitutional declaration has opened the door for complete chaos.”

A taste of success, though, came when Mursi earned international plaudits for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, helping bolster his status as a regional player.

Mursi’s mediation showed that “on foreign policy questions, he has been as pragmatic as you could possibly expect from a Muslim Brotherhood president,” El-Shimy said.

The president was still basking in praise over Gaza when his decrees were announced, sending tens of thousands to the streets to protest his new powers. Several dailies also decided not to publish on Dec. 4 to oppose what they say are limitations on freedoms in the charter that Mursi sent to a referendum.

“The erosion of legitimacy of the political system took place under Mubarak while he had the fist of the police and the military,” said el-Hodeiby. “Mursi doesn’t have that, so he’s taking us in the direction of fascism, but he doesn’t have the tools required for fascism.”

‘Unjust’ Comparison

“The only tool he has is his political support from the Muslim Brotherhood and, if he used that, this means civil war,” he said.

Ahmed Sobea, a media adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said there was no comparison between Mubarak and Mursi.

“It would be unjust to compare tyranny with democracy,” he said. When some tried to storm the presidential palace during protests, Mursi ordered the police to withdraw, he said. “This underlines the difference between the democratically elected civilian president and between the dictator, Hosni Mubarak.”

Critics of the charter say it infringes on freedoms and fails to protect the rights of women and minorities, boosting fears that many secular groups and Christians voiced amid the Islamists’ political ascent. Hala Fahmy, the television anchor, said on her program that the proposed constitution was “for slaves.” Fahmy was suspended from work after the show pending investigations, the state-run news agency reported.

Mango Defiance

Belly dancer Sama el-Masri, with a wiggle of her hips while lip-synching on a homemade video on YouTube uploaded last month, sent a message of defiance.

In alternating images, she clutched mangoes and then knives, mouthing a song facetiously thanking Mursi for lowering the price of mangoes while taunting Islamists that their “thuggery” won’t “scare me away.” Mursi had commented on the mango prices during a speech marking his accomplishments in his first 100 days in office. He prefaced that address in a Cairo stadium with a victory lap in an open-top sport utility vehicle with faux wood paneling.

“What has he done since he took over?” Mohamed Abdel-Tawab, a 59-year-old retired army officer now working as a taxi driver, said during a rally last month that drew over 200,000 Mursi critics back to Tahrir. He said his two sons, both in their 30s, can’t afford to get married.

“I have bent over backward to educate my children and then what? They don’t find proper jobs,” he said. “We are suffocating.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE