by :abdullah kamal
Responding to US dismay over his branding Jews as "monkeys and pigs", Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has said his quote was taken out of context. In 2010 before he was elected president, Morsi told a rally: "We must nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred of Jews."
As the word spread about the disclosed video recording of the address, Morsi's aide Essam al-Hadad released a statement in English targeting the Western media emphasizing "Morsi's respect for all religions". Later, al-Hadad told the Egyptian private Al Hayat TV that Morsi did not "retract what he had said about Jews. He just explained it". This time, Morsi's aide was addressing an Egyptian audience.
At a recent meeting in Cairo, US Senator John McCain told the Egyptian president that language of hate does not build a strategy. One can add that a dual political language does not help build credibility.
Morsi frequently contends his abidance by Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. But, none of his speeches targeting Egyptian public opinion has ever mentioned Israel by name. While having lashed out at Israel over its recent war in Gaza, Morsi described Israeli President Shimon Peres in a signed formal letter as "my great friend", wishing Israel "prosperity". The media of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails has painstakingly sought to reassure its supporters that his letter to Peres does not reflect the Egyptian president's true feelings.
This linguisticduality is not limited to a certain issue. It is a characteristic of Morsi and the Brotherhood, based on a belief that this duality can strike a balance between the president's commitments towards his backers, who are mostly Brotherhood followers and hardline Islamist allies, and the internal and external obligations dictated by being in power. Hardly does a week pass without Morsi coming under sharp criticism when his past statements and present acts are juxtaposed. His opponents find in this comparison a big chance to strip him of credibility, while his backers try hard to justify his contradictory stands.
This is not an amusing game. Rather, it erodes an aspect of legitimacy on which Morsi relies. Besides being viewed as an elected president, Morsi is seen in the West as having religious legitimacy that may enable him to make bold decisions, mainly towards Israel, while being sure of Islamists' backing.
Morsi's opponents say he has emulated all the moves pertaining to Israel and the US for which the Mubarak regime has been criticized by the Brotherhood. For example, Morsi last year brokered a protracted truce deal between Hamas, the Gaza's rulers, and Israel – Mubarak acted likewise while in power.
The West, mainly the US, pins big hopes on Morsi, being affiliated to the Middle East's oldest and largest religious group, to broker solutions to regional problems with the Brotherhood's direct involvement, by placing pressure on Hamas or engaging the Syrian offshoot of Brotherhood. Still, the West seems to lose notice of ideological considerations by which the Brotherhood arrogates to itself the right to use a dual language and maintain double standards.
Religious groups, engaged in politics, embrace the principle of takia, which means concealing one's true convictions and adopting temporary, bogus stances to avoid harms from others. Militants have manipulated this principle, which originated in the early days of Islam to avoid non-Muslims' persecution of converts, and turned it into a justification for political deception.
Egyptian public opinion keeps track of contradictions between the present discourse employed by Morsi and his group and the pledges on the basis of which he was elected. A prevailing impression is that Morsi has not kept his pledges and that he is bluffing those who voted for him. The matter is not limited to his linguistic duality. Moreover, the president is perceived to gradually using two courses to govern the country– one public and the second semi-concealed.
The Egyptian opposition has exhausted itself in heaping criticism on a weak government appointed by Morsi and led by Prime Minister Hesham Qandil – a technocrat lacking in political and economic experience. Qandil is being flayed over economic woes, failed management and a security breakdown that has resulted in high crime rates. This is the public course.
Concurrently, Morsi is moving ahead with expanding his powers and tightening the Brotherhood's grip through an undeclared course, which commenced with ousting the Supreme Military Council and his head Hussein Tantawi, followed by a November 22 temporary constitution that put Morsi's decrees beyond judicial oversight.
While Morsi has not bothered to drastically revamp his government to allay public discontent or select efficient ministers for economic affairs, he -- with the Brotherhood's backing - has pressed ahead with steps in the second direction. He has rushed a disputed constitution through an Islamist-led assembly and a referendum. He has shielded the upper house of parliament dominated by Islamists from disbanding and disregarded the opposition's reservations about a new electoral law.
Instead of overhauling the state institutions, the Brotherhood, manipulating presidential powers, has created influential entities gradually replacing the state bodies. Morsi has named loyalists as deputy governors in several provinces and granted them powers greater than those of governors.
While having authority to appoint governors, why does the president name more powerful deputies? Meanwhile, tensions grip the Foreign Ministry over its dwindling role and curtailment of its minister's action in favour of Morsi's aide for foreign affairs.
This may be an attempt by the president to wield his tools in face of unyielding bureaucracy, described by the Brotherhood as being non-cooperative. Still, this proves that neither Morsi nor the Brotherhood has a clear vision for developing the state institutions who say the ruling group only seeks to dominate them.
Morsi's dual language and twin-course rule gradually erode the confidence he gained as an elected president. Having won the top post by a meager 51.3 per cent of the votes, he remains on edge. While the dual language wrecks his credibility, the two-course approach exposes a lack of transparency. At the end of the day, a gap is widening between him and his opponents, deepening a political crisis whose magnitude was not anticipated to be like this in the first months in office of an elected president.
Morsi is Egypt's de jure president. Yet, his performance in the past eight months has sent his religious legitimacy dwindling. His political legitimacy is increasingly diminished.