And now, the end is near for President Morsi


“We are not leaving before Morsi does.” Such was the reaction I heard just about anywhere in Cairo these last days. The determination was reinforced by the historic turn out on June 30th. The armed forces initially spoke of 13 million people, the ministry of information called it at 17 million. Some media stated that in the whole of Egypt no less than 30 million people had taken to the streets.

Whatever the correct number, millions of Egyptians were united in one single message: erhal the Arab word for ‘leave’.

Non-Egyptians wonder what Morsi must have done wrong to get that much people in the streets? Some point to the economy as the main reason. It is certainly true that Egypt is at the brink of the economic abyss. Every day there are multiple outages of power and running water. There is hardly any petrol left, creating very long queues at gas stations which in turn cause big traffic jams. Tourism, Egypt’s major source of income, has fallen drastically to a fraction of what it once was. The currency lost a quarter of its value, making everything more expensive. This is particularly hard on the large group of very poor Egyptians.

Yet, this is not the reason for the massive turn out at protests. It is clearly not a hunger revolution either. While having a cup of tea close to the presidential palace, I could observe the massive crowds passing by. The diversity was apparent: young and old, veiled and unveiled women, poor and rich, Muslim and Christian. Furthermore, it is important to stress that the atmosphere was and still is positive. Yesterday Tahrir and neighbouring streets looked like one big festival. Fireworks were lit. There was singing and dancing.

What brings all of these people together is a sense of betrayal. The Muslim Brotherhood was given a chance after the revolution. They were the best organised and had the most thought-through ideas. People imagined the brotherhood to be the best shot at fulfilling the ideals of the revolution: freedom, dignity, justice and bread. Exactly what was expected of Morsi. And Morsi was off to a good start. He replaced the hated military leader Tantawi and re-seized the power the armed forces had taken from the president.

All changed in November 2012. Morsi and his party were convinced of a major conspiracy in the making. Mursi’s response was a constitutional declaration seizing all power and shoving an Islamic constitution down Egyptians throats. As of that moment more and more Egyptians got convinced Morsi was just a Muslim Brotherhood president and not the president of the Egyptian people.

That is at the core of this week’s protests: people do not accept one group forcing its agenda upon an entire nation, regardless of whether that group has an electoral majority. This rising against “the tyranny of the majority” we see in Egypt today and we saw in Turkey these last months. In Turkey too, people do not accept the economic progress generated under Erdogan’s rule as an excuse to govern as he pleases.

This is Mursi’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s big error of judgement. Convinced of their majority, they thought the opposition was small and divided and that people would eventually side by them. June 30th that certainly turned out differently. No one can withstand such masses. Not even the army. The military brass saw what happened and saw that it could result in a huge spiral of violence. This is probably why they issued an ultimatum, to avoid Egypt turning into one giant street fight.

In the meantime everybody is abandoning ship. Ministers resigned. The president’s press secretary quit, as did a number of governors. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are increasingly isolated as the people seem determined to continue to protest. Some claim an elected president cannot simply be deposed. That would be special, but not unique. US president Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. French president Charles De Gaulle resigned upon losing a referendum. A referendum that was organised in response to the many street protests seen by France in those days.

Whatever the outcome of this battle of titans, some conclusions are already clear. For one thing, a very religious country such as Egypt does not accept its religion to be politically abused in power plays. Islam, like Christianity, is a very diverse religion. Imposing one interpretation on the rest of the population is not tolerated. Secondly, citizens of a country in transition are very aware that democracy is not just holding elections. Whomever is elected will have to listen to the rest of the people. Majority-reasoning is refuted. Finally, it is clear people do not accept the hard won freedom to be restricted again by anyone. Those who try are removed immediately. Those are the signals in Egyptian streets today. And those are reason to be optimistic about the outcome of the Arab Spring.

  1. #1 by Mahmoud on July 3, 2013 - 7:51 pm

    very good analysis
    MB leaders can’t see this as the truth
    they just lie about every thing
    MB leaders ( like Mohamed Al-Beltagy ) are inviting there supporters to be killed in the quest of legitimacy ( which is a big lie )

    as you said ” Whomever is elected will have to listen to the rest of the people ”

    Thanks

  2. #2 by Victor on July 4, 2013 - 12:39 am

    Egypt should consider switching to election of the President by a 2/3 majority in Parliament.

    Day to day running of government should be the responsibility of an easily dismissable Prime Minister.

  3. #3 by Eddie on July 4, 2013 - 7:35 am

    I liked your article, well thought through. From my observations I also think there is good reason to be optimistic for the Egyptian people. In spite of the turmoil that is occurring, the Egyptian people know what they want and have fought hard to obtain it. I think this is a good sign for an eventual positive outcome. Just hope for less violence, less pride and more reconciliation.

  4. #4 by Roger Cole on July 4, 2013 - 11:45 am

    Morsi was the democratically elected President of Egypt overthrown by a military coup long before his term was up because his policies were unpopular. Is Mr. Debeuf suggesting that Mr. Cameron should be replaced because his policies are unpopular like his intention to arm Al-Qaeda in Syria? Is he suggesting that the policies of Mr. Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach be deposed because his policies are unpopular?

  5. #5 by Nalliah Thayabharan on July 4, 2013 - 12:10 pm

    This is how people oust dictators – no armed foreign terrorists needed, no no-fly zones needed, no bombings needed. Morsi’s narrow view of seventh century desert cave way of life is not suitable for 21st century. Egyptians were embarrassed having Morsi as a president. Morsi did not win the election, USA and Qatar made Morsi the President.
    Portuguese Army should take cues from the Egyptian army and stand for the people, like they did in 1974

  6. #6 by fadia on July 4, 2013 - 5:15 pm

    The constitution you mentioned was actually approved by the people.
    Morsi lacked the knowledge and experience to rule a country, but at the same time you could argue that there were also forces at play from the old regime that stopped him from creating any real change or improvement for his country. But arresting him and his party is contradictory to any type of democratic process the Egyptian people are trying to achieve.

  7. #7 by Victor on July 4, 2013 - 9:45 pm

    This is both a civilian and a military coup, with causes both domestic and foreign.

    Morsi should now be impeached, so that rules can be developed on what is proper during a transition. The arrest of Morsi´s circle as a precautionary measure would be proportional to the situation, the situation being that the President’s behavior is judged so wrongly as to justify a coup. All Western nations suspend fundamental guarantees in states of emergency.

    There should be a distinction between Morsi´s circle and the whole Muslim Brotherhood. The whole movement shouldn’t be criminalized for the actions of some of its leaders. But everyone in the leadership that pushed, supported or enabled Morsi to ignore the rest of society should be exposed. Again, it is about the rules of the democratic game.

    But there should be care not to leave the country leaderless. If both all of Morsi´s and all of Mubarak´s aides were completely excluded from the political system then this would also be an invitation to social unrest. In the former Soviet space lustration was carried out in differentiated ways according to each countries situations. The exclusion of former Communists from power was done in many cases by informal political pacts between the liberal parties. Iraq shows that excluding whole segments of society from power doesn’t work.

    The majoritarian “constitution” should be reviewed. Adopting a fully parliamentary system with a President elected by a 2/3 majority in Parliament would allow the person to play the role of arbiter that a country in transition sorely needs.

    Gradually the military will need to come under civilian control, but it can’t be majoritarian civilian control. If there is no social consensus, the military can’t be put under civilian control, because then there is no one to assure social peace. It is true that the military is just profiting from turmoil, but this is mainly society’s fault which has missed the opportunity to turn revolution into evolution.

    1. The West has been behind this “coup” and indirectly partially its cause:

    a) the Hamas fiasco showed the need to let the political Islamists govern for a while so they show their true illiberal undemocratic colors.

    b) the reason Egypt’s economy tumbled is partially related to lack of Western tourism.

    c) the IMF had Morsi choose between reform/unrest and Western aid.

    d) the West never clearly articulated in public its red lines.

    e) the Egyptian military partly depends on US aid.

    f) Ashton (EU-EEAS) has spoken clearly accepting the coup results, her lack of engagement with Egypt in the past months (the US did the same) shows that the West had given up on Morsi a while ago.

    2. A government may be democratically elected but not be liberal/democratic:

    a) a democratic government is one that is committed to free elections and personal liberties, not just to having its views achieve majoritarian support, specially in countries with important distinct minorities (ethnic, religious) and major differences between political views in urban vs. rural areas.

    b) during a transition about half of democratically elected governments become autocracies, this means that during a transition a “coup” may be preferable to the consolidation of power in the hands of just one political actor.

    c) in the West the several democratic transitions (and each country, like the US, UK, France, etc, has had more than one) were almost invariably led by liberal governments, which meant that the consolidation of their power didn’t lead to long term restrictions on individual rights; plus the more stable democracies, the UK and US don’t have majoritarian-rule constitutions.

    d) in the former Soviet space the transitions failed in those countries were it was not a managed transition and illiberal elements were allowed to take power under new banners.

    3. Systems without separation of powers lead to turmoil:

    a) with Egypt’s non-functional parliament and judiciary, the military was the only institution left to intervene.

    b) in the West and specially in Europe, there are not only national, but also supranational courts that assure respect for human rights.

    c) this is what we are witnessing also in Turkey.

    d) if the Arab Spring militaries had deposed the autocrats, popular risings would have been faster and Western intervention unnecessary.

    4. Popularity can’t be what defines a democracy:

    a) the definition of what is popular in the cities and outside the cities, by social class, etc, is not always the same;

    b) if this were the case then governments could never take tough decisions.

    c) but, there is a point when lack of popularity should be allowed to bring a “revolution” (popular coup), this is even implicitly recognized in the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

    d) we do have very unpopular governments and policies in the West, but no one doubts that fresh elections will be held and fundamental freedoms are for the most part working soundly.

    • #8 by Orly on July 5, 2013 - 4:37 am

      What an intelligent, informed and balanced explanation, Victor. What do you do for a living?

      • #9 by Victor on July 5, 2013 - 8:41 am

        Thanks! Advisor ;-)

  8. #10 by Sadeem on July 6, 2013 - 7:00 pm

    Morsi wasn’t a US-backed dictator as Mubarak was, Mubarak subverted Egypt socially, politically and economically during his 30 years of presidency over Egypt.
    Morsi didn’t get a chance to complete his term as a president. So people who accuse him of being incompetent for presidency, can a person fix in one year what have been subverted in 30 years??

    It is obvious that there is this constant fear of Islam and Islamists reaching power. But Morsi didn’t impose Islamic law on the Egyptian people, though he called for a constitution that enshrines Islamic law which is fair, in my opinion, since Egypt is an Islamic country in the first place.

    As for the other religious minorities in Egypt, it hasn’t been indicated not in the slightest way that Morsi’s government will eventually result in cutting their rights in any way.

    Egyptian should start considering the consequences that will follow the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president. Even if the people wanted to overthrow their government, the army shouldn’t have the high authority of intervening and ousting a president. History has proven very well the dreadful consequences that follows any military coup.

  9. #11 by Wim Roffel on July 8, 2013 - 10:52 am

    It seems to me that Koert Debeuf as a revolutionary enthusiastic finds it difficult to admit the more structural problems of Morsi’s rule. Some examples:
    – the increasing influence of Jihadi fighters in the Sinai. A recent report mentioned that the Sinai had replaced Pakistan as the main training ground for Jihadi’s. Apart from allowing weapon smuggling from Libya towards the Sinai Morsi also allowed those weapons to be smuggled to Hamas.
    – Morsi’s call for sectarian war against Shiites in Syria that soon resulted in some dead Shiites in Egypt. True to form Morsi didn’t apologize. Anyone who after the appointment of a Jihadi governor still doubted that under Morsi political murder was allowed got here his confirmation.