Drawing parallels between Morsi and the situation in Egypt before the revolution ignores the complex nature of an emerging Egyptian democracy
Amidst the recent turmoil in Egyptian politics, proposed changes to the constitution have generated much controversy and in some quarters, outright anarchy. The changes were recently put to a referendum, with Morsi agreeing to abide by whatever the population decided. The majority voted yes, with 63.8% voting in favour of his decree. Albeit the numbers who went out to vote has decreased, this is the second time the electorate has voted in Morsi’s confidence. It is therefore surprising that sections of the media and many ‘liberals’ continue to inform the world over that there is no legitimate support for the Brotherhood. How can this possibly be when time and time again the people, i.e. the voters, have proved otherwise?
Some have suggested that the reason for the vitriolic opposition against Morsi is purely an economic one. This is a narrow-minded view of the situation on the ground in Egypt, with the economic hardships having been endured by a weary population for a lot longer than several months. One must remember why the Egyptian people began revolting in 2011; against Mubarak’s dictatorship and the economic restrictions he imposed, with over half of the population living below the poverty line. He squandered Egypt’s wealth and left the country and its people in poverty. Yet this is rarely discussed when talking about Egypt’s current state, with Morsi being held accountable for errors that have accumulated in the decades preceding his current election. It is unfair to blame one president for his predecessor’s mistakes.
Amongst the accusations thrown at Morsi in recent weeks by his critics are that he is a dictator, comparable to Mubarak, and even Hitler. One must question this attack on Morsi, a president who has been democratically elected. Regardless of one’s political views, the democratic reality of the Egyptian vote cannot be denied. Morsi did not force his way into power as his predecessor Mubarak did, nor has he stifled protests against him. In fact, he has encouraged a strong opposition and peaceful protests. Morsi has had only five months in power, assuming control of a country completely entrenched in corruption. Given the short time he has had in power, by any standards he has been judged severely. When assessing the impact a president has had on a country, it is done normally towards the end of their term, not at the start.
The initial spark to the recent uprising was Morsi’s constitutional decree that hands him overarching power, superseding that of the judiciary which has no right to stop or challenge his decisions. This judiciary however, remains a remnant of the old regime and pointedly impeded efforts to push through a new constitution that devolved their influence and authority. Although the measure seemed drastic, it was one proportional to the resistance he faces from the old guard. Even with this decree rescinded, the protesters continue to rebel against the government.
While it was necessary to head to Tahrir Square with Mubarak, a self-appointed president, in office, to now head to the streets on any given opportunity is problematic. How do protestors expect to rebuild the country if this is the response every time a decision is made? The opposition claims to want the best for Egypt, with democracy at its core. However at their first opportunity to work with the democratically elected president, they refused to partake in civic processes, instead deciding to protest. Perhaps the issue here is not with the constitutional decrees, but with Morsi and the fact that he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan).
Many opponents of Morsi have made no secret of their despair that the Ikhwan have attained power in Egypt, refusing resolutely to partake in the rebuilding of the country, focusing primarily on partisan politics. The Ikhwan, notwithstanding their reputation in the West for violence and extremism, have over the years garnered significant grassroots support for their social welfare work. To suggest that most of those who support the Brotherhood are uneducated, or as journalist Matthieu Mabin proposed, farmers who were told to vote for Morsi through the Friday sermon, is inaccurate, condescending and belittles the revolution of the Egyptian people.
Even within his short tenure, to paint his reign as overwhelmingly negative ignores the positive outcomes he has achieved: from his successful talks with Omar Al-Bashir, leader of Sudan, to freeing imprisoned Egyptian journalists; from peace talks between Israel and Hamas to secure a ceasefire, to ridding the military in Egypt of their constitutional power of legislation, and retiring defence minister and Mubarak’s trusted associate Tantawi – an act that could have caused extreme violence, but was executed smoothly. These achievements should not go unnoticed, and the progress the country has made during his short time as president should not be disparaged.
The emphasis by the president has been on upholding democracy and maintaining the revolution, preventing the country from moving backwards into what it was. The situation in Egypt is not a perfect situation, nor is the leadership perfect. This is a learning process for everyone, as many in Egypt have only ever lived under dictatorship. It is crucial for the success of the revolution that people unite and work together, instead of finding excuses to hold a grudge against a democratically elected government.
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