Mursi’s folly

November 23, 2012

After helping end the fighting in Gaza, impressing President Barack Obama and negotiating a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls “brass.”

Mursi’s hubristic post-Gaza power grab on Thursday was politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic over-reach. It will deepen Egypt’s political polarization, scare off desperately needed foreign investment and squander Egypt’s rising credibility in the region and the world.

Television images of renewed clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez will play into stereotypes that the Middle East is not ready for democracy. They will bolster suspicions inside and outside Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted.

I disagree with the skeptics and believe democracy can still be established in Egypt. But Mursi’s moves won’t help Egypt make the difficult transition.

“There was a disease but this is not the remedy,” Hassan Nafaa, a liberal political science professor and activist at Cairo University, told Reuters Friday. “We are going towards more polarization between the Islamist front on one hand and all the others on the other. This is a dangerous situation.”

An alarming dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. Power-grabs, brinksmanship and walk-outs are becoming the norm, as a bitter struggle plays out among newly empowered Islamists, vestiges of the Mubarak regime and the country’s deeply divided liberals. Political paralysis is the result — with rule by presidential decree, overreach by the judiciary and a deadlocked constitutional assembly. As polarization deepens, desperately needed economic, political and judicial reforms stall.

Friday’s street protests were relatively small compared to the massive Arab spring demonstrations.. But the trend is in the wrong direction.

“President Morsi has used the nearly absolute authority he assumed last August,” Nathan Brown warned in an excellent analysis for The Arabist, “to try to put that absolute authority beyond reach, at least on a temporary basis. He may very well succeed.”

In a surprising triumph in August, Mursi abruptly ended the Egyptian military’s post-Mubarak rule of the country. After apparently gaining the support of younger military officers, Mursi forced older, pro-Mubarak officers, led by Field Marshall Muhamad Hussein Tantawi, into retirement. Mursi then seized sweeping powers.

In one positive sign, Mursi used his new authority sparingly. Critics who feared an Islamist crackdown were proven wrong. His boldest move was a failed October attempt to remove the country’s unpopular prosecutor general, a Mubarak holdover widely criticized for mounting lenient prosecutions of Mubarak and other former officials. When the prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, refused to obey Mursi’s order to resign, the new president quickly backed down.

That restraint vanished on Thursday. Mursi removed the unpopular prosecutor, opened the doors for a re-trial of Mubarak and other officials and granted himself and the country’s constitutional assembly immunity from rulings by the country’ pro-Mubarak judiciary. Critics feared pro-Mubarak judges would dissolve the constitutional assembly, just as they had dissolved the country’s first democratically elected parliament before Mursi was elected president in June.

In a speech outside the presidential palace on Friday, Mursi argued that he had seized sweeping powers to preserve the transition to democracy. He promised that once full constitutional democracy was established, he would relinquish these powers.

“I am for all Egyptians,” Mursi said, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and the rotation of power. “I will not be biased against any son of Egypt.”

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this script before. It almost always turns out badly. A destructive dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. The poisonous distrust and conspiracy theories that have handicapped the country’s transition to democracy are deepening.

On Friday, a senior Brotherhood official scoffed at liberal opposition leader Muhammed ElBaradei’s calls for protests.

“We’re not scared of ElBaradei,” the official told journalist Lauren E. Bohn, “he has no real support on street, he’s Western.”

ElBaradei and members of country’s liberal opposition have their flaws. They are deeply divided, failed to build strong political organizations and too quickly engaged in boycotts and walk-outs.

Only Egyptians can change Egypt’s political culture. The international community, though, can and should clearly signal its support for constitutional democracy and the rule-of law in Egypt. The State Department issued a statement Friday calling on all sides to peacefully resolve their differences. But the quicker way to create pressure is through the IMF.

On Tuesday, officials from Egypt and the IMF announced a tentative agreement to issue a $4.8 billion IMF loan to the country’s cash-strapped government. Egyptian officials agreed to enact spending and tax reforms designed to reduce the country’s deficit, attract foreign investment and restore the economic growth that vanished after Mubarak’s fall.

IMF officials said the loan was part of a whopping $14.5 billion funding package planned for Egypt. They did not name the donors but they are believed to include the Unites States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Final approval of the $4.8 billion IMF agreement lies with the group’s board, due to meet on Dec. 19.

Washington, Brussels and the IMF should set benchmarks for the disbursement of the aid, pegged to democratic reform being implemented in Egypt. Fears of instability in Egypt or Gaza should not prompt the international community to turn a blind eye to Mursi’s power-grab. All Egypt’s key stakeholders – whether Islamists or secular liberals – should be shown that they will pay a price for anti-democratic excess.

We’ve funneled billions to Egyptian dictators before. The results were grim: poverty, economic stagnation and deep resentment of the United States. If Mursi — or any Egyptian leader — flouts democracy, they should not receive billions in American and international aid.

If Egyptians squander their chance for democracy, it’s their choice. Shame one us, though, if we lose our nerve and make the strongman mistake twice.

PHOTO: Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi speaks to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, November 23, 2012. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout Reuters


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Idon’t see any folly on president Morsi’s move. After all history s on his side.

President Mohamed Morsi’s Thursday Degree was necessary to complete the achievements of the Egyptian Revolution. As it has been up to now, Mubarak’s appointed judges and the top prosecutor were still deciding what the President can do, and what he couldn’t do, effectively invalidating the revolution and turning Mr. Morsi into a cosmetic president on the basis of the previous Mubarak’s laws! In short, Mubarak’s judges and prosecutors, by protecting their positions, had turned themselves into a Supreme Council of the Egyptian Judiciary (SCEJ)! Thus, Egypt’s authority had gone from Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and from SCAF to the SCEJ, while the elected Egyptian parliament, and the elected president have been turned into water fetchers by Mubarak’s old guard. And that old guard enjoyed the full support of the West who had done everything possible to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from exercising its parliamentary power first, and then frustrate Mr. Morsi from exercising any prerogatives that Mubarak had exercised with the West’s blessing.

There should be no doubt that the West see Morsi as an anathema of Western and Israeli interests in the Middle East, especially after Mr. Morsi attended the Non-Aligned Conference of 120 states in Tehran, Iran, at the time that the Western media was heralding the isolation of Iran by the international community. That Conference proved that 65% of the world’s states are on Iran’s side – not on the West’s side. Mr. Obama’s praise of Mr. Morsi recently was definitely a phony praise to mask any Western involvement in the current anti-Morsi protests in Egypt – which is a certainty.

The object of all popular revolutions has been the sweeping of an unjust and despotic regime, and its full replacement by one controlled by the people. Mubarak’s judges have tried to abort the authority of the new political order in Egypt – probably with encouragement from Western government who abhorred the revolution. But Egypt needs a new slate, and the freedom to fulfil all the aspirations of its revolution without any interference by Mubarak’s stooges in Egypt’s old judicial system, and without any interference by the West which still cannot accept the loss of Egypt from its sphere of influence.

The Egyptians won their revolution, but the Egyptian revolutionaries were like a pack of hyenas that brought down a big prey – like a buffalo (Mubarak), But now the lions (The Western powers) are moving in with instigated protests to take over the kill, and reclaim their lost hunting ground! Similar protests preceded the successful overthrows of Mohammed Mossadegh; of Salvador Allende; of Manuel Ortega; of Daniel Noriega, of Manuel Zelaya, but were unsuccessful against Mahmud Ahmadinejad!

Mohamed Morsi is on the anvil now, and the Egyptian Revolution is at stake, because the West has perfected its undercover regime destabilizing operations over the last half of the 20th century! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Retsos_Nikos | Report as abusive

I am of the opinion that Morsi has assumed, temporary, Marshall Law authority.
When things settle down, he may relinquish such posture, as he wants more outside help, both materially and monetary.
Let us hope and pray that the current self-destructive mob mentality dissipates soon.
…and I am Sid

Posted by SiDhaMama | Report as abusive

Good analysis.

Egypt is one of a few countries suffering from a full fledged demographic crisis, with no solution in sight.
The country cannot support its own population even when basic necessities such as food are concerned.
In other words, without the generous foreign help it receives, Egyptians would experience famine on a large scale.

Egypt needs to implement major reforms, including family planning – China or India style. But this isn’t going to happen in Egypt, and the economic and political cost of its demographic crisis will increase in years to come.

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive

Various aspects of the society, economy, politics etc remind me of – Pakistan.
Which is an unpleasant thought for everyone (except Salafists).

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

Hows that Arab Spring working for you now….
sos_Nikos I think there are a few Egyptians that disagree with you

Posted by Crash866 | Report as abusive

Franklin Roosevelt was in nearly the same position as Mursi, relative to the Supreme Court, during the New Deal. With four terms, he was very nearly “President for life” and the democracy survived.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive