Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Political Unrest in Egypt

Hindsight is always 20/20, meaning that often we make a compelling argument only after the fact. This is especially true with respect to the demonstrations currently taking place in Egypt. While there are some people who provocatively suggest that the protests should not surprise us, I do think that we actually should be surprised that a protest as large as the one currently threatening Morsi's hold on power could happen twice in just two years.

Of course, it could be said, in hindsight, that Morsi made a couple of bad calls during his presidency that ended up backfiring, solidifying his diverse opposition into a coherent group with one single demand that Morsi should resign. In essence, Morsi broke all the rules that could make democracy to be sustainable.

First, Morsi's biggest mistake was in alienating a significant number of the opposition by drafting and rushing to approve a new constitution. This constitution, basically the rules of the game for all to follow, was drafted solely by the Islamists, as the Christians, secularists and liberals, all important political players, boycotted the entire process. As a result, this new constitution lacks legitimacy, as the opposition believes the constitution is a sham, created solely to maintain Islamists, especially the Moslem Brotherhood, in power.

At the heart of Morsi's problem is his conviction that he and the Moslem Brotherhood had won the election fair and square with 51.73% of the vote, and that gave him the mandate to impose his will and shape the society.

His opponents, however, claimed foul, which to some degree was justified, as the Moslem Brotherhood was the most organized group capable of turning out voters. Besides, many also voted for Morsi, seeing him as the lesser of two evil, as the other candidate was presumably backed by the military. Therefore, seeing that Morsi acted to consolidate his and the Moslem Brotherhood's gains, the opposition simply refused to play along and denied the regime and the constitution its legitimacy.

To further confirm the opposition's worst fear, Morsi also decided to place himself above the law, albeit temporarily, in order to rush the approval of the constitution. Even though that action was claimed as an exception, it could also be justly asked: what would prevent Morsi to pull another stunt like this? By doing this, Morsi might have won the constitutional battle, but he lost the war, as his actions united entire opposition with the goal of bringing Morsi down.

Morsi later compounded his mistakes, one of which was by appointing a governor with a link to Gamaa Islamiya, a notorious terrorist group that murdered 62 people in Luxor in 1997, as the governor of... Luxor. Not surprisingly, this appointment didn't go over well and the governor was later forced to resign.

All these mistakes, coupled with the economic crisis, which was caused by the political uncertainty in the first place, finally led to the huge protest movement that threatened Morsi's hold on power.

Could Morsi have acted differently to avoid this outcome? The problem is that Morsi believed he received a mandate to reshape Egyptian society and saw the opposition simply as a cynical bunch, unable to work together with him. Moreover, had he bended too far backward to accommodate the opposition, this would have cost Morsi his Islamist supporters, the Moslem Brotherhood in particular.

Morsi should have realized the Moslem Brotherhood's strong organization would necessarily cause fear among opposition. Instead of concentrating all power in his and his organization's hands, then, he should have created a non-partisan technocratic cabinet, with opposition figures receiving positions of real importance. He ought to have made sure that the constitution was drafted by independent figures, not just the Islamists. This would have squelched the legitimacy issue that plagued Morsi right from the beginning.

But once things went really south a few weeks ago, though, Morsi's options were limited. He could have given concessions, but after the military threw its hat into the ring, any possibility of the opposition working with him was reduced to slim to none, because the opposition now believes that the military has turned against Morsi.

At this juncture, it is easy for the military, the opposition, or the Moslem Brotherhood to overplay their hands.  Morsi probably should pick the least bloody outcome: resign.

Note: A follow-up post can be found here.

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