Egypt’s current situation can be summed up by one jokey quote doing the rounds just now:
“Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all tried to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only Morsi succeeded.”
UPDATE: Yesterday, the army gave President Morsi 48 hours to resolve the crisis before they would “take responsibility.” They later denied this would amount to a coup, but it has been speculated that it would involve removing Morsi from power – perhaps replacing him with a technocratic government before holding new elections. It’s a fair bet to say that the Muslim Brotherhood would find their popularity diminished in such hypothetical elections. These protests have been seen as a setback for – and perhaps even a rejection of – political Islamism in the region. Either way, the next day will be crucial for determining the direction of Egypt’s future.
You can see a live stream of Tahrir Square, the focus point of Egypt’s protests, here.
A year ago today, on the 30th June 2012, Mohammed Morsi* took office as the fifth President of Egypt. This marked the rise of the once-banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Morsi himself served time in prison during Mubarak’s administration. He is significant for being the first president in Egypt’s history – all 7,000 years of it – to have been elected in what was generally recognised as a free and fair election. That’s great, right?! Finally, a leader who respects democracy? Well……
Morsi never fails to pay lip service to his democratic ideals – more often than not to safeguard his legitimacy – but is he really interested in promoting the ideals of the revolution? I had a positive opinion of him upon his first election. Small things, such as not wearing a bulletproof vest during his inauguration speech and refusing to have presidential portraits of himself hung like Mubarak had convinced me he was, at least, different to what had come before. By no means indications of the route his leadership would take but a good start.
Unfortunately, as the months dragged on it began to look as though his rule was becoming ever more authoritarian. I uneasily read reports of journalists and presenters who had been arrested or threatened by the government and, although Egypt is nowhere near the level of a police state it was under Mubarak, these are not things which happen in a democratic country. Then came that November decree where Morsi announced ‘temporary’ powers over the judiciary, effectively granting him more powers than even Mubarak had wielded. In response to the mass unrest which occurred afterwards he did rescind the decree, and has gone on record since of saying the move was a ‘mistake’. So, pretty mixed. Economically, Egypt has continued to stagnate, and while the unrest caused by Morsi’s divisive policies are one factor of this I don’t think he can be solely blamed. Egypt’s economic problems will take longer than a year to fix.
Internationally, Morsi hasn’t taken any dramatic routes. Egypt’s partnership with the USA and ‘The West’ has continued, if perhaps in a more limited fashion. He has made tentative moves to improve Egypt’s relationship with Iran and also seems committed to maintaining the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. I would say his general policy is to keep as many potential allies abroad as possible, although he has appeared heavy-handed at times. The most prominent example of this is his fierce opposition to Assad’s government in Syria, calling for direct support to the rebels fighting Assad and the imposition of a No-Fly Zone over the country. He has also recently attacked Ethiopia’s planned project to dam the Nile, giving a veiled threat of war, though this is unlikely to happen.
Today, on the anniversary of his acquisition of power, mass protests have yet again broken out across the country. As many as hundreds of thousands could be out, right now, protesting in Cairo, Alexandria and most other cities. Many are calling for a ‘second revolution’, claiming they will not leave until Morsi resigns. There are conflicting reports of how the army views the situation, with some claiming that the army, still recovering from its brief stint in power and keen to avoid more unrest, might play a more significant role than we have previously seen.
As I’m not Egyptian I don’t really have a right to comment, but I’m not entirely convinced Morsi should resign. I oppose most of his policies I’m aware of, but there is the strong argument that he was democratically elected. There’s also the strong argument that it would be a bad precedent of Egyptian presidents backing down from power at the first hint of trouble. Also, quite simply, Morsi could have been a lot worse. He does still permit protests and realises that he does rely on public consent to rule – a fact I don’t think he is ever allowed to forget. He hasn’t yet set up a fundamentalist Islamic autocracy, as some feared this time last year.
It’s not unprecedented for popular protest to remove a democratically elected government from power, as we saw earlier this year with Bulgaria, and if the protests reach such an extent that the country becomes ungovernable then I do think Morsi will have to go. There is the option open to him to hold a snap election and, in the presence of foreign observers, allow the will of the country to be properly tested. I think that would be preferable to a direct resignation. But I suspect, for now, he is here to stay.
*There are so many variations on how to spell his name – I’ve gone with the one I see most often.
Over the past five days, Turkey has been taken aback by mass protests in most of its major cities. They were sparked by plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul, but considering protests have since erupted in Ankara, Antakya, and other cities, it is clear that this has developed into something larger. Tens of thousands of protesters have been out on the streets, day and night, in what appears to have become general anti-government protests against Prime Minister Erdoğan, who has been in power since 2003. Unions have also called for strikes in solidarity with the movement.
I was rather surprised when I first heard the news of this – I’d always thought Turkey to be a fairly democratic country. Sure, mass protests do happen in democracies – just look at Greece, or Italy, or Spain – but they never seem to have quite this level of intensity, or when they do the government usually swiftly resigns. Democratic countries also tend not to react so violently – tear gas and water cannons have been deployed, resulting in many clashes between protesters and the police in which several people have been injured and even, I think, a couple of deaths. That said, Turkey appears to be showing some restraint – they have allowed protesters to gather inside Gezi Square, who have set up a barricade around it and now effectively govern themselves, and also the Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has apologised for the use of excessive force.
If I understand it correctly – and I know very little about Turkey – the protestors are mainly young, liberal, secularists who oppose the creeping Islamisation of Turkey under Erdoğan, which they argue is against the principles established in the 1923 constitution when the country gained independence. An example of this is his crackdown upon alcohol consumption. The protests are also against his increasing authoritarian nature. There are fears that he seeks to change the constitution to a Presidential system in order to increase his own powers, and he has also been criticised for his power over the media. It’s no wonder he hates Twitter so much.
I’ve seen a few comparisons between Turkey and the Egypt Revolution in 2011 since the protests began, but I’m not sure how comparable the countries are. Egypt certainly was far more authoritarian than Turkey is now, with Mubarak having led the country for three times the amount of years Erdoğan has led Turkey. FreedomHouse gave Egypt a freedom rating of 5.5/10 in 2011, whereas Turkey in 2013 has 3.5/10 (with 7 being ‘not free’). There may be similarities, but my guess would be that Turkey’s future will not be as dramatic as Egypt’s.
Incidentally, one of the most ironic points to come out of this is the advice Syria has given Turkey over the issue, urging Erdoğan to resign. Turkey doesn’t seem to have taken Syria’s advice (which I can’t blame them for; Syria’s not exactly who I’d ask for advice to successfully stop protests).
It is impossible for anyone to predict how this situation will end, particularly not someone as misinformed as I. But I think the protests will result in concessions from the government, and perhaps even Erdoğan’s resignation, though that’s not hugely likely. He is still believed to have the majority of the country behind him. The protests could fizzle out, but I think they will have some lasting impact upon the country.