By Abdullah Kamal
Egypt’s current political crisis puts President Mohammed Mursi’s rule to a crucial test. Likewise, the crisis comes as an unexpected test for his Muslim Brotherhood group’s ability to entrench its political existence at national and regional levels. Depending on the results, there will be effects determining the alternative to the Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia and Libya, with repercussions on the Gulf too.
In practice, the difficulty in resolving the crisis does not lie in its complexities, economic dimensions, conditions set by the main opposition National Salvation Front, the heavy pressure exercised by Egyptian public opinion or the mounting violent protests against Mursi’s rule. Rather, it lies in the fact that Mursi’s approach has turned him into a president who creates crises.
Mursi was fielded by the Brotherhood as a reserve candidate to stand for president. He became the group’s presidential contender after the election commission disqualified the main Brotherhood candidate Khyrat al-Shater. While campaigning for Egypt’s top job, Mursi was taunted as a “spare part” presidential hopeful.
Egyptian protesters keep shouting “Down with the supreme guide’s rule”, a slogan reflecting their conviction that Mursi’s decisions are dictated by an authority higher than him inside the Brotherhood. This belief undercuts his legal status as a president and affects his public image.
In June, Mursi was announced to have won the presidential election by a meager 51.3 per cent of the vote. Prior to the announcement, the Brotherhood had threatened to set Egypt ablaze and resort to violence if Mursi did not become a president. At the time, the group was worried that the then ruling military council would interfere to make Ahmed Shafiq, Mursi’s rival, the winner.
Mursi’s win is still at the center of an unresolved legal challenge. The former public prosecutor ordered an investigative judge be appointed to probe vote fraud alleged by Shafiq. This judge has not been named yet.
Mursi started his presidency with a crisis. He was unwilling to take the oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court. A day before the official swearing-in, he went to Tahrir Square where he made a symbolic oath-taking. The following day, he took the oath before the court; then did the same later in the day at an inaugural ceremony at Cairo University.
Thus, he betrayed hostility towards the court, which few months later was encircled by Mursi’s backers for the first time in its history. The police were prevented from acting against those protesters, a matter that prompted the court to suspend its work for more than a month.
After the new disputed constitution was approved, Mursi took the oath time and again, as though he wanted to say that he had not observed the oath he had recited upon taking the office.
A week after becoming a president, Mursi ordered the reinstatement of the lower house of parliament already invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court. His move enraged opponents who challenged the presidential order. The court voided the legislature’s reinstatement. Thus, the president made nonsense of his decisions and triggered a dispute with the judiciary. His opponents did not find it hard to construe reducing the number of the top court’s judges and amending its powers in the new constitution as a reprisal from Mursi and the Brotherhood.
In his maiden speech as a president, Mursi infuriated supporters of late president Gamal Abdel Nasser by deriding his era. Days later, a controversy erupted on whether Mursi would mark the revolution of the 1952 Revolution, which is popular with many Egyptians. Eventually, Mursi gave a short address on the occasion. However, Nasser’s portraits continue to be raised in anti-Mursi protests.
Days ago, the presidency stopped its official care for the Nasser shrine, devolving the task to the Defense Ministry. The shift has drawn sharp criticism from Nasser’s backers and his son Abdul Hakim.
In the current crisis, Mursi does not face an opposition bloc as much as public anger stoked by his statements and measures. Hardly has a week passed since he took office without him infuriating a category in society. On different occasions, he assailed the independent media, accusing it of being financed by what he called “rotten money”. In public addresses, he lashed out at capitalists, accusing many of them of being corrupt and loyal to the Mubarak regime. Moreover, he stayed away from a ceremony enthroning the new Coptic Pope Tawadros III. Meanwhile, Mursi has borne the brunt of the Brotherhood’s scathing attacks on supporters of his rival Shafiq.
The new Islamist-drafted constitution imposes “political isolation” on former MPS who belonged to Mubarak’s now-dissolved party, a ban that has deepened political animosity between the Mursi regime and traditional powers linked to the former ruling system. These forces have strong links across Egypt.
At the end of the day, Mursi has made enemies of liberals, Nasserists, traditional powers, capitalists and the media community.
The biggest loss incurred by Mursi has resulted from his showdown with the judiciary when he issued on Nov. 22 a decree making all his decisions beyond juridical oversight. He also sacked the public prosecutor in violation of the law.
Mursi’s moves prompted judges to suspend work in courts nationwide. Prosecutors continue to demand the new public prosecutor, appointed by Mursi, to resign.
The latest street protests coincided with turmoil in the Port Said city, sparked by the sentencing of 21 local people to death over football violence. The Port Said rioting left more than 40 people dead. In the aftermath, Mursi delivered a televised address demanding the people to respect court rulings. His demand drew criticism from his opponents, who accused him of having himself infringed court verdicts.
Building a dictatorship
Still, the Brotherhood has awakened Mursi’s biggest adversary when the group embarked on a massive drive to dominate the state institutions. The drive has drawn stiff resistance from an estimated 5.5 million bureaucrats, who feel that their interests are at stake. Mursi has not attempted to gradually restructure these institutions. Instead, he has violated bureaucratic rules by giving allies top posts in several such institutions, triggering vehement opposition and grinding work there to a virtual halt.
Mursi has, meanwhile, got problems with his allies among the hardline Islamists or Salafists. He sometimes bowed to their pressure. At other times, he kept aloof from them.
In the run-up to a referendum on the draft constitution, Mursi, the Brotherhood and Salafists joined forces against liberals. Salafists waited to be rewarded in return. Yet, the Brotherhood saw Salafists as potential rivals in the upcoming parliamentary election.
The group is also known to have caused rifts inside the Salafist Al Nur Party, which was hit by large-scale defections. Those who stayed behind in Al Nur forged an alliance with the secular-leaning National Salvation Front against Mursi and the Brotherhood
Mursi suffers glaring contradictions between his election pledges and the stances he has adopted since becoming a president. Following his first 100 days in office, Mursi was lambasted by the opposition for having failed to keep all his promises. During those days, it became clear that his electoral platform “The Renaissance Project” was a phantom. The Brotherhood strongman Khyrat al-Shater embarrassed Mursi when he said: “The Renaissance Project is more of an idea than a plan.”
Ideologically, President Mursi exposed himself when he brokered a truce between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas-- following the example of Mubarak whom he had previously criticized for doing this. Mursi’s successful mediation earned him international praise, mainly from the US. However, he lost a lot of his credibility among supporters. His opponents, meanwhile, took advantage of the situation to ridicule the Brotherhood’s earlier vow that it would liberate occupied Jerusalem from Israel.
In another situation, Mursi vehemently denounced the killing of four U.S. diplomats in Libya in September last year when he was under Washington’s pressure. In the current crisis, his opponents have criticized him for failing to condemn the killing of scores of Egyptians in protests against him. In a televised address, Mursi even threatened tough measures.
The media has persistently sought to prove that Mursi lied about his past. He was shown to have said in past interviews that he worked for the NASA, a claim that was found later to be false. His public animosity towards the media has made him a constant target of TV talk shows. The lawsuits filed by his supporters against media personalities have not discouraged his critics. The Egyptian media seems to believe that grilling Mursi is crucial to defend its freedom.
Egypt’s political crisis is hard to solve. Mursi will suffer further problems in running the country not only because the current upheaval adds to economic woe and hampers efforts to get an eagerly awaited loan from the IMF. Basically, Mursi has lost his credibility by proving day after day that he is unable to take a decision or make a statement without creating a new crisis.