Mohammed Morsi Removed From Power: Revolution 2.0?

Mohammed Morsi has become the second president of Egypt in as many years to have been forced out of power by popular protest.  Contradictory rumours have been flying about all day concerning the state of Egypt’s leadership but, just now, the army have announced Morsi’s removal and the suspension of his Islamic-tinted constitution.

Well, that’s twice now I’ve been wrong about Morsi.  It’s fair to say I did not see this coming.  But, in some ways, it should come as no surprise.  In the first round of the 2012 Presidential Election, only 24.78% of people voted for Morsi as their first choice.  It was only when he entered a run-off with former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who served under Mubarak, that Morsi won the vote – and even then only with 51.73%.  While Morsi undoubtedly will have taken the Islamic vote in this election, I’m pretty certain he also relied on the liberal and secular vote to assure a victory.  It was Morsi’s hubris and his ignorance of this fact that led to his downfall.  By pursuing a broad Islamic agenda, despite declaring himself a moderate, he has alienated the section of society which got him into power.  That is how protests larger than those which deposed Mubarak rose up against him.

One thing that strikes me, as a statistics geek, is just how brief his leadership has been.  Egypt has a history of long-lasting strongmen – Nasser (1956 – 1970) served 14 years, Sadat (1970 – 1981) 11 years and Mubarak (1981 – 2011) a staggering 30 years.  Morsi’s solitary year is very feeble in comparison, making him certain to go down in history as one of Egypt’s most ineffectual presidents.  Well, alongside Muhammed Naguib – Egypt’s first President – who was kicked out by Nasser after a similar amount of time.

One issue being fiercely debated is whether this action by the army constitues a coup.  On one hand, the definition of ‘coup d’etat’ is: “A sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force”.  This is most definitely sudden and decisive, and Morsi’s government has been changed by force.  Therefore, it is a coup.  But does it deserve to be counted as one?  Coups typically unfold as the army, for its own ends or for its misguided view of the national interest, force the acting government out of power.  In this case the army has responded to an overwhelming outpouring of public opinion.  I’ve read one comment where someone ironically stated that Egypt is one of the few countries where the public are actually in control.  Let’s have no misunderstandings, the army has little interest in democracy.  What the army wants is stability and influence; it merely sees encouraging democracy as the means to achieve these goals.  But, really, the army had few options.  The anti-Morsi camp is significantly larger than the pro-Morsi camp, and Morsi is characteristically unwilling to negotiate his way through anything.  They could have tried to set up a unity government but, to be realistic, that would have been a guaranteed failure.  Removing Morsi must have been seen as a cleaner, easier option.

So where does Egypt go from here?  New elections for both the president and the parliament are due to be held, perhaps in 2014 – three whole years after the initial revolution.  In the meantime, the head of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly al-Mansour, will be the interim president.  Hopefully Morsi’s supporters will choose to voice their opinions in the election rather than take more immediate, drastic action.  I fear Paul Mason has it right: “For everyone belatedly discovering Arab Spring has parallels with 1848, please note it is now 1851.”  It’s being argued that the army stepping in to depose Morsi will set a precedent for the army, much as has become the case with Pakistan’s modern history.  However, I have faith that these new elections will at least attempt to be free and fair and.  So long as the new President is careful not to disgruntle the army to a great extent (though bear in mind it will be unwilling to stage another coup), they’re probably safe.  But then, I now have a track record of being wrong!  So has everyone, in fairness.  This situation is completely unpredictable.

I wonder how the election will go.  While I doubt this is the end of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force, their popularity has been dealt a severe blow and I find it unlikely that they’d dominate these elections as they did 2012.  Could secular coalitions, who have now had the time they need to organise and mobilise, grab a victory?  A moderate liberal actually willing to listen to people would be my preferred option.  But, lurking in the shadows, a third possibility lies in wait.  Remnants of Mubarak’s regime, which came so close to grabbing victory in 2012, may yet play a significant role.  With the ancien régime’s obvious alternative ending in such failure, will the Egyptian people now sacrifice some ideals of the revolution for stability?  Considering the uncontrollable force which has been awoken, an influential youth movement accustomed to its new freedoms and willing to defend them – as we’ve seen time and time again – I find this unlikely, but it’s not impossible to imagine Egypt may now take a step back.

Well,  see you next time I find myself compelled to blog about Egypt.  This seems to be a regular occurrence.

Egypt Joke

Quote

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.

Mohammed Morsi: One Year On

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.

2013: Qatari Emir Abdicates Throne

A bit late on this, but it’s a story which will fall under the radar despite being hugely significant so I thought I’d better mention it.  Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani* of Qatar has handed over power to his 33 year old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.  Knowing little about Qatar, most of my information is what I’ve read from other journalists – but I’ll try to summarise why this is such an important development.

Firstly, you need to examine the context this occurs in.  The region is recovering (well, with some exceptions) from the greatest political and social upheaval since achieving independence from European colonialism.  Since 2011 four Arab dictators have been forced from power – Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak, Libya’s Gadaffi and Yemen’s Saleh – in generally violent circumstances.  This is a region in which leaders tend to grip onto power for as long as possible, where virtually every leader leaves office either through their own natural death, a coup or an uprising.  The peaceful transfer or rotation of power is rare.  Which is one reason why this story is so surprising.

Why did he make such a decision?  I’m not sure anyone really knows, yet.  Is it an attempt to quell potential discontent by presenting a younger, more in touch leader – one who it will take time for the populace to become disillusioned with?  Does he feel he could achieve more behind the scenes?  Is he simply tired?  I have no idea.  Marc Lynch discussed the issue well in this article.  But what I think is more significant is the potential impact this could have, not just upon Qatar but the region as a whole.  Qatar has played an outspoken role in supporting uprisings in Libya and Syria – it currently reportedly supplies weapons to Islamists fighting the government in Syria.  Qatar has also played a role in helping Egypt with its continuing economic crises.  The Arab Spring can therefore be seen as having been an opportunity for the small country to become a big player in the region.  While most analysts think foreign policy will remain consistent for the short term, Sheikh Tamim could take Qatar’s influence in many different directions.

Another question is whether the perhaps inevitable political liberalisation might occur under this younger leadership.  Freedomhouse’s Freedom in The World 2013 report awarded Qatar a political rating of 6/7 and a social rating of 5/7, giving it the overall rating of 5.5 and grade of ‘not free’.  While a very bad rating, this does actually make Qatar one of the freer countries in the region; Iraq, Iran the United Arab Emirates and Yemen rate 6/7,  while Saudi Arabia and Syria rate the rock-bottom score of 7/7.  It’s not an impossibility that Qatar’s regime may decide upon a slow process of liberalisation.  Since 2006 there have been plans to hold the country’s first legislative elections and while this hasn’t yet happened – and while this body would have few real legislative powers – it would be a start.

Basically, I know nothing.  Except the fact that anything could happen.

*Still working on memorising that.

Turkey Protests

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.

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