Amidst mass demonstrations calling on him to quit, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was ousted from office by the army on July 3rd. Millions of demonstrators erupted into cheers at Tahrir Square after General Abdul Fatah Khalil el-Sisi announced that Morsi would no longer be the president.
Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization. In 2012, Morsi, the chairman of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Freedom and Justice Party became the president after winning 51 percent of the votes in the presidential election. Significant opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood’s winner-takes-all mentality culminated in his removal by the military on July 3, 2013.
On Monday, July 8, more than 51 people were killed and 435 wounded by security forces during a protest by about 1,000 Morsi supporters outside the Republican Guard headquarters where Morsi was detained. The Muslim Brotherhood accused the troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed the protesters for provoking its forces.
Why did Morsi and the Brotherhood lose?
“The problem was that it became more and more apparent that the Brotherhood was intent not on building a democratic administration, but a new regime,” writes Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian blogger for Al-Monitor, a news website.
Sabry indicates that this was best demonstrated by the process involved in drafting a new constitution.“The constitution, which was supposed to be the crowning achievement of Egypt’s transition, became one of its most divisive elements and deepest causes for national conflict.”
Significant opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood started developing in November 2012. Tahrir Square, the center stage of protests that led to Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down from presidency in early 2011, became the scene of new protests against a series of constitutional decrees placed by Morsi that put him and the Shura Council. The decrees, which were beyond judicial review, were meant to allow the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly to finish drafting the new constitution without disruptions.
Morsi agreed to limit the scope of the declaration after several days of protests. However, there was further outrage when the Constituent Assembly approved a rushed version of the constitution despite a boycott by liberals, secularists, and the Coptic Church who were part of the group drafting the constitution. These groups claimed that the new constitution failed to protect freedom of expression and religion. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the highest authority in traditional Sunni Islam, was amongst those parties who boycotted the assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution. The university said in a statement it would “not participate in the assembly to draft the constitution … announcing its reservations over not being appropriately represented.”
As opposition mounted, Morsi issued a decree authorizing the armed forces to protect national institutions and polling places until a referendum on the draft constitution was held in December 2012. Critics claimed that this decree amounted to a form of martial law. Within weeks, the army was deployed in cities along the Suez Canal to halt clashes between opponents and supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sabry argues that Morsi breached the revolutionary consensus on other grounds, aside from the constitution, he tightened control over the state media. State-owned papers and channels were subject to appointments from allies of the Brotherhood. The state press and television did not provide an impartial coverage of events following appointments.
Morsi also appointed loyalist figures to key state positions. Sabry writes, “While the appointments of political allies and fellow party members to key positions is a part of democracy, the Brotherhood’s actions were widely seen as an attempt to solidify their grip on the state in a manner that threatened any modicum of neutrality by the state institutions, especially while the national mood was still strongly in favor of greater unity to full government or public oversight of its activities and resources.”
The ailing economy has also been an area of concern. Power cuts, petrol shortages, and soaring food prices are endemic. Investors and tourists are avoiding Egypt, which is undermining the country’s already weak economy. Foreign currency reserves have fallen by more than half since Mubarak’s ouster. The Morsi government’s weakness prevents it from taking action to improve the economy. Before Morsi’s ouster, the government spent months negotiating a $4.8 billion loan, on what the Guardian calls relatively easy terms from the International Monetary Fund. If an agreement is reached, the government might have to cut subsidies for energy, oil, rice and bread, which is politically damaging as it will increase prices and put pressure on the public’s ability to afford their basic needs.
“It is Morsi’s very economic policies that caused the economy to deteriorate, leading many to even admit they were better off under Mubarak, given the frequent electricity cuts and gasoline shortages as examples,” Sara Khorshid writes for Tahrir Squared, an online news source for the Arab uprising. “The bottom-line is that a country with deep political woes cannot enjoy stability and therefore cannot develop economically,” Khorshid adds.
In late April, opposition activists set up a grassroots protest movement named Tamarod, meaning rebellion in Arabic. The movement collected signatures for a petition that included complaints about Morsi’s failure to restore security, improve the economy and accused him of putting the Brotherhood’s interests ahead of those of the country. Tamarod organized mass protests to mark the first anniversary of the day Morsi took office. Thus, on June 30, millions of people took to the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation.
In response to the unrest on July 1, the military warned Morsi that it would intervene and impose its own road map if he did not satisfy the public’s demands within 48 hours. Two days later, the military declared that the constitution had been suspended and Morsi was removed from office.
Reversing gains of the revolution
For many, the events of July 3 have raised concerns about the future of democracy and peaceful coexistence in Egypt.
“The forceful removal of the nation’s first democratically-elected civilian president risks sending a message to Islamists that they have no place in the political order; sowing fears among them that they will suffer yet another bloody crackdown; and thus potentially prompting violent, even desperate resistance by Morsi’s followers,” an International Crisis Group report warns.
A report in the New Republic magazine argues that the military is setting a dangerous precedent by imprisoning a democratically elected president and rounding up large numbers of Morsi supporters who have been demonstrating peacefully. Further, the report maintains that repression of the Brotherhood and Morsi is undermining Egypt’s chances of democracy.
Morsi is under house arrest. According to the BBC, arrest warrants have also been issued for some 300 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Khairat al-Shater, a leading member of the Brotherhood. The military has also shut down four Islamist TV stations, banned the Brotherhood’s newspaper, and raided the office of Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian affiliate.
The history of the Brotherhood’s treatment in Egypt also warns against their repression. Brotherhood members have been persecuted, repressed and tortured for the past 50 years since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time, due to the group’s growing grassroots support and opposition to successive Egyptian governments. After a failed attempt to assassinate Nasser, the then-President of Egypt, in 1954, the Brotherhood was blamed and banned from entering politics, and thousands of members were imprisoned and tortured. Years of government repression caused the Brotherhood to evolve into a paranoid, secretive and sometimes radicalized organization that operated underground. To this end, many in policy circles caution against a return to pre-revolution tactics employed by Mubarak and his predecessors.
Many analysts also caution the opposition against repeating Morsi’s mistakes. An International Crisis Group report warns that the continuation of exclusionary, confrontational politics (albeit with role reversals) will lead to greater violence.
An Al-Monitor report notes that the language used to frame the current crisis will be crucial in setting Egypt’s future course. The report urges the opposition to frame the current political crisis such that Morsi’s removal is seen as result of his political and economic failures rather than an attack on the Brotherhood. Further, the report maintains that excluding Islamists—whether it is the Brotherhood or the Salafists—from politics is not an option for building a pluralist Egypt since “the Islamists are part of the Egyptian political fabric.”
For the time being, General Sisi has laid out a four-part road map: a suspension of the current constitution, the selection of a committee to amend the constitution, the holding of an early presidential election under the Supreme Constitution Court’s oversight, and the formation of an interim technocratic national consensus government.
Egypt has come full circle since Mubarak stepped down as the country’s president after mass demonstrations across the country early in 2011. Just as in February 2011, an Egyptian president has been ousted and the country remains at a critical standpoint. The future of democracy in Egypt depends on how all groups respond to the events of July 3, 2013.