Egypt: Morsi’s failure

Governance is slipping from President Morsi’s control. His failure to tackle Egypt’s economic and security woes is why the people have turned against him and is deeply significant for Islamist politics

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Edward Winfield
On 2 July 2013 07:52

President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) seem increasingly impotent as mass protests mark the anniversary of his reaching office.

His opponents hope to bring about a second revolution two and a half years since the overthrow of Mubarak. Whether or not they succeed, it is clear Morsi’s administration has thus far been largely a failure.

He has focused on consolidating power while ignoring Egypt’s grave economic and security problems, and, ironically, in so doing has actually weakened his position. Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s inability to compromise has demonstrated its immaturity as a political force.

Egypt faces an economic crisis which Morsi has failed to counter despite coming to power in full knowledge of the scale of the issue. The country has been a slow-motion economic disaster for years. Rising prices and inequality were significant causes of opposition to Mubarak, and debt and foreign currency crises have grown in the turbulence since his fall. Morsi has nonetheless largely ignored the problem and instead has put his energies into attempting to consolidate his position.

Emblematic of this point is his inability to secure a $4.8bn loan from the IMF. There has long been agreement that the deal offers the best solution and negotiations have been continuing for two years. In return for bolstering the country’s diminishing foreign exchange reserves the IMF is insisting on cuts to a budget deficit which was estimated this week at 14 percent of GDP in nominal terms, only marginally lower than that of Greece at the height of the Eurozone crisis. Both problems - the monetary and the fiscal - become more serious by the day but progress on the loan has stuttered.

Like the nose-diving economy, the country’s poor security situation is not a surprise - it was widely accepted at the time of the revolution that a possible consequence could be increased lawlessness. Dictators are, after all, generally quite concerned with the maintenance of public order, whereas his ouster would bring about a transition period to an alternative form of government.  By the time Morsi took office the seriousness of the problem was further illustrated by the unrest following the Port Said football disaster.

Yet Morsi has failed to get a grip over this policy area either.  Homicide rates have tripled since 2011, armed robberies have risen by 1204 percent since 2010, abductions have risen four-fold, and burglaries are up by 50 percent. The black market for weaponry has thrived as criminals seek to benefit from the weak policing while others do not trust the state to keep them secure. Just last week, four Shia Muslims were killed by a Salafi-inspired mob in Giza. Condemnation of the murders from the MB was muted and a day later.

While the country descends into a basket-case state, the Muslim Brotherhood has concentrated on consolidating its power with a degree of ruthlessness. It has pushed the SCAF (the Army Council) out of power, hurried through a Constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, cracked down on media opponents, and, most controversially, attempted to place the President’s decisions beyond judicial review.

Morsi belatedly offered “dialogue” with opponents in his speech on Thursday and his reaction to the protests this weekend.  However, his proposal was somewhat undermined by the speech’s Islamist-rally form. Nor can his mea culpa obscure the lack of concrete concessions to his opponents, who, the MB continues to suggest, are a collection of secularists, communists, Nasserists, and ancien regime engaged in attacking Islam.

Egyptian politics was divided before Morsi came to power and many of his opponents were already bitterly against the MB. The economic and security challenges he faced were not of his making nor easily surmounted. But his apparent focus on consolidating his position has ironically become the reason why control is slipping out of his hands.  Many of those in Tahrir Square this weekend had been open-minded or even supportive of the MB, but its failure to tackle the key issues has undermined its popularity - in the words of one protester, “I’m here because Morsi, whom I voted for, betrayed me and did not keep his promises. Egypt will be liberated again from Tahrir Square.”

The significance of Morsi’s failure is deep for the MB and Islamist politics more generally. The MB has come a long way since its establishment by Hassan al-Banna in 1929. Its doctrine has evolved to oppose violence and support pluralism; the organisation has morphed from a social movement to being driven by its political wing.  Between the revolution and Morsi’s presidency it underwent further notable changes in its thought and practice as it prepared for government, for instance creating ambiguity over its vision for the implementation of shari‘a.

But despite this, the past year has shown the MB to be often unwilling to compromise, suggesting its immaturity as a political force. The failure of the first period in office of the original Islamist movement will be felt across the region. 

Islamist groups seemed till recently to be the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring, but perhaps this was a poisoned chalice.

Ed Winfield is a Parliamentary Assistant to a Conservative MP

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