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What Hath President Morsi Wrought?

August 23, 2012

Mohamed Morsi supporters celebrate his initial victory in the Egyptian presidential elections in Tahrir square. Photo by Zeinab Mohammed. Used under Creative Commons license.

The Egyptian revolution continues to hit us with surprises. No one predicted this recent action of Mohammed Morsi’s–using his presidential power to undue the SCAF’s assumption of legislative authority (passing it to the president), and to retire Field Marshal Tantawy and Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, the two highest ranking members of the military council.

Mariam El-Ghobashy has a great summary piece entitled “Egyptian Politics Upended,” putting the whole thing in the context of a wider clash between elites who keep running afoul of popular political fervor. She begins:

When he took office on June 30, President Muhammad Mursi of Egypt looked to have been handed a poisoned chalice. The ruling generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had tolerated a clean presidential election but then had hollowed out the presidency, saddling Mursi with an executive’s accountability but little of the corresponding authority. The country resigned itself to the grim reality of dual government, with an elected civilian underdog toiling in the shadow of mighty military overlords. Then, just over a month later, Mursi turned the tables, dismissing Egypt’s top generals and taking back the powers they had usurped. The power play crystallizes the new dynamic of Egyptian politics: the onset of open contestation for the Egyptian state.

She concludes:

Until the people attain a reliable voice within the state, the logic of popular politics will continue to disturb the designs of elites. The uprising was the booming opening salvo in this engagement, putting paid to Mubarak’s hereditary succession scheme. The next casualty was the Brothers’ short-lived plan to share the presidency with the SCAF, undone by the conflicting interests of the principals and the rise of maverick outsiders like Sabbahi and Abu al-Fotouh who captured the people’s imagination and a considerable share of their votes. Future presidential elections will be similarly charged episodes of real competition, with insiders seeking to regain their hold on executive power, outsiders rattling at the gates and Egyptian voters as the arbiters.

Nathan Brown at the Carnegie Foundation offers a Q&A answering a series of questions about the events:

  1. What changes did Morsi make?
  2. Can Morsi do this?
  3. Were Morsi’s moves coordinated with the military?
  4. Where does this leave Egypt now?
  5. What is the status of Egypt’s transition?

The Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily applauded Morsi’s action in an August 13 editorial by Chief Editor Abdel-Beri Atwan:

Who would have imagined seeing the strongman of the Egyptian military institution falling off his high horses with the stroke of a pen, and turning into a consultant under the umbrella of an Egyptian president who until three months ago was an obscure individual and the object of jokes by some naive individuals…? President Morsi thus restored the Egyptian military institution’s status and respect, by cleansing it from those who wanted to render it the guardian of a regime of corruption, as well as an extension of it, in times when military dictatorships have collapsed in favor of civil democratic states and when banana republics have disappeared from the Arab and international political map.

But the El-Nashra website asked in an Aug. 14th editorial, “Did Morsi Strike a Blow to the Military or Cut a Deal With It?”  Citing Wafd party leader Wafik al-Ghitani, the paper described Morsi’s decision

as being “an ambiguous bomb,” considering nonetheless there was a deal to allow the MB to control Egypt, in exchange for the safe exit from power of the commanders of the military council and the men of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. He assured at this level that the army could not have made any concessions unless there was some sort of an agreement… In a related context, a number of Egyptian powers are criticizing Morsi over the humiliating way with which the military exited power, considering that what happened was some sort of a coup by the Muslim Brotherhood group.

The Carnegie Foundation also offered a brief summary of other initial reactions to Morsi’s moves.

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