How Egypt's President Precipitated a CrisisSarah A. Topol
Mohammed Morsi, a member the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, was sworn in as Egypt’s president on June 30, 2012. One year later, an unprecedented number of Egyptians have taken to the streets across the country to demand the resignation of the first democratically elected president Egypt has ever known. Morsi’s presidency has been beset by stumbles, mass protests, and missed opportunities. Here is a list of the top 10 blunders:
1. Running for office in the first place: The Muslim Brotherhood promised not to field a candidate for presidential elections early on after Hosni Mubarak was toppled, but when the time came, Morsi’s name was on the ballot. The Brotherhood’s having gone back on its word so quickly was seen by its opponents as a harbinger of things to come.
2. A complete inability—alternately seen as a lack of desire—to create an inclusive government: Morsi came to office on the narrowest of margins, winning only 51.7 percent of the vote in a second round runoff. After taking office, he was unable, or some say unwilling, to find figures from across the political spectrum to join his cabinet. Instead the Brotherhood played majoritarian politics. After winning both parliamentary and presidential elections, it governed without coalitions, pushing its agenda despite opposition.
3. Morsi and the Military: Egypt’s well-respected military has long held the reigns of power in the country, on stage and behind the scenes. All three previous presidents of the Arab Republic hailed from its ranks. After president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 2011, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces took over the country, passing an addendum to the constitutional declaration that granted itself legislative powers, a substantive role in drafting the constitution, and limitations on the powers of the new president. On Aug. 12, 2012, Morsi repealed the SCAF addendum and ordered the retirement of the two most senior members of the SCAF, replacing them with men thought to be more loyal to him. He was obviously wrong. The country’s new constitution failed to curb the powerful generals, and Morsi never took the military out of politics, even if he gave the appearance he had done so.
4. The epic mess of drafting and passing Egypt’s new constitution: The constituent assembly tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution under SCAF had been plagued by infighting and legal challenges. On Nov. 22, 2012, Morsi unilaterally issued his own constitutional declaration that made his decrees immune from judicial oversight until the passage of a new constitution, and he dismissed the sitting public prosecutor in hopes of pushing through a new constitution. Egyptians took to the streets to protest Morsi’s moves. Meanwhile, Brotherhood delegates on what remained of the constituent assembly rammed through a hastily drafted version, followed by a national referendum. Critics complained that the new document did little to protect freedom of expression and minority and women’s rights. Morsi’s actions looked like a ploy to keep the opposition out and Islamize Egypt with his backers.
5. Failure to reform the state’s security apparatus: The hated police that brought people to the streets under Mubarak were never purged or reformed. The security services and the Interior Ministry stayed intact, but they either would not or could not enforce public order. Petty crime went up and people waited in vain for the security Morsi promised to bring.
6. The price of bread: When people took to the streets to protest Mubarak they demanded “bread, freedom, and social justice!” The Brotherhood had campaigned heavily on promises to fix the country’s battered economy and a general optimism over this prospect existed, even among detractors. As a banned organization, the Brotherhood had built its popularity by providing social services the government did not. Instead, inflation rose and the price of basic goods—bread, tomatoes, meat, chicken, and cigarettes—increased. The Egyptian economy floundered under Morsi’s watch. The heatedly debated IMF loan never came.
7. The opposition’s ineptitude only furthered the Brotherhood’s mistakes: There was a distinct perception atop the government that the enemies of Brotherhood rule were everywhere. In response, Morsi and the Brotherhood circled wagons. For its part, Egypt’s fractured opposition was never able to create a united front offering viable political alternatives to the Islamists’ rule. Most protesters agreed only on demanding an end to something instead of a charter of programs. So when it came time to deal with the opposition, the Brotherhood stuck to its path, never negotiating—partly because there was no one to negotiate with.
8. Sectarian violence: Under Morsi, the country’s Christian minority has complained of increased sectarian strife which, while not uncommon, certainly had occurred less frequently under Mubarak. Whether this is due to the inaction of the security services or the Brotherhood’s alliances with more vocal fundamentalist groups that think they have free rein on Egypt’s streets, the public blames Morsi.
9. The media: Freedom of expression was tightened under Morsi’s term. The Brotherhood’s errors became a target of the private media. The movement responded with open aggression. Independent media outlets were threatened with closure, journalists were investigated for insulting the president, and some were brought into court while others were threatened and tortured.
10. Electricity and fuel: The final impetus to the Sunday protest. By June 30, chronic gasoline shortages were common all over the country, while electricity cuts and rolling blackouts were the norm. Egypt’s sweltering summer found people in gas station queues and bread lines or at home, without fans or air conditioning, when the power went out. The exasperations of daily life stoked the country’s fury, and people took to the street.