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.