‘The exit of Mohammed Morsi signals the collapse of religious politics in Egypt. This is because the Muslim Brotherhood politicised religion and stifled opposition’
The security situation in Egypt has continued to deteriorate following last week’s ouster of Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected civilian President. Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian military following weeks of widespread protests over his style of governance, which many described as “high-handed, autocratic and uncompromising”. For some time, the country has been plagued by a crumbling economy resulting in shortfall in fuel supplies and electricity, among other unbearable hardships foisted on the Egyptian people for quite some time now.
On July 1, 2013, the Egyptian army delivered a 48-hour ultimatum that required Morsi to find a quick resolution to the political impasse. He could not. At the expiration of the deadline, the military high command, led by Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Al-Sisi, more commonly known as General Sisi, took over Egypt and installed Adly Mansour, Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court and a foe of Morsi, as interim President. After the change of government, the army suspended the constitution and has been carrying out massive crackdown on members of the Muslim Brotherhood on charges ranging from “inciting violence to disturbing the general security and peace” of the country. With this, the country seems to be hooked on a cliff-hanger as the Muslim Brotherhood are largely displeased about the turn of events.
Prior to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood has been engaged in sporadic violence for the control of political power. The exit of Mubarak opened a vista of opportunity for the organisation who wrestled power from the hands of the politicians. It is, therefore, expected that Egypt could relapse into a regime of violence if the present situation is not properly managed. For now, fighting has erupted across the country between supporters of Morsi and his opponents, leaving several people dead and many more injured. The violence erupted as Morsi’s supporters held massive protests across the country, calling for his reinstatement.
Morsi became the nation’s President barely a year ago, but failed to fix the nation’s ailing economy or improve its crime statistics, among other accusations. Human Rights Watch said he had continued abusive practices established by ousted Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades with iron-fist. Numerous journalists, political activists and others were prosecuted on charges of ‘insulting’ officials or institutions and spreading false information.
Surprisingly, the United States, U.S’ reaction to the unfolding political scenario has, at best, been tepid and measured. The Barack Obama administration is turning to top officials of his government to tout democracy, political transparency and peaceful protest for Egypt, a message that has taken on a hollow tone. This is just as everybody seems to be eagerly awaiting a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible in the country. But behind the scenes, the U.S. was signalling to Egypt and its allies that it accepts the military’s decision to depose Morsi, and was hoping that what fills the vacuum of power would be more favourable to U.S. interests and values than Morsi’s Islamist government.
However, those hopes were tempered by very real concerns that a newly emboldened military would deal violently with the Muslim Brotherhood thereby sending Egyptian society further into chaos and making reconciliation more difficult. The Obama administration’s stance, which carefully avoided the legal implications of calling the military’s intervention a coup, won something of a bipartisan endorsement last Friday from Republican Representative, Ed Royce of California, and Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, who issued a joint statement that criticised Morsi for not embracing “inclusiveness, compromise, respect for human and minority rights, and a commitment to the rule of law.”
Indeed, the Obama administration is facing difficult choices. If it denounced the ouster of Morsi, it could be accused of propping up a ruler who had lost public support. Yet, if it supported the military’s action, the administration could be accused of fomenting dissent or could lose credibility on its commitment to the democratic process. This is probably why the administration is acting as if it accepts what happened in Egypt – and actually believes it could turn out for the best with the Islamist Morsi no longer in charge. At the same time, officials are attempting to keep their distance, laying down signposts for what they want to see in the long term while challenging the military to make sure that happens.
The concern being expressed all over the place is that, in the short term, the situation could spiral out of control, with the military using the clamour in the streets as an excuse to confront the Muslim Brotherhood with excessive force. By laying emphasis on U.S. aid in conversations with Egyptians without cutting it off, the U.S. leaves room for the escalation of the situation if need be, but it is also ready to work with Egypt’s new government if it moves in the right direction. The military leaders have assured the Obama administration that they were not interested in long-term rule following the overthrow of Morsi. The swearing-in of Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as the country’s interim President, illustrates the military’s desire to be seen as committed to quickly returning the nation to civilian control.
Whichever way the present political configuration is viewed, there is a threat of imminent chaos looming over the country. Since more than 22 million signatories drew the line on the sand for Morsi, everybody knew that the days of the regime were numbered. By far, this 22 million outnumbered those who had voted for him barely a year ago because he was not elected with a landslide but a slim victory, which arose from the coalition of several interests.
No sooner had he stepped into office than Morsi started baring his fangs. He collided with the courts in 2012 and gradually alienated the people. He toyed with power and, by so doing, he inadvertently wrote his own obituary. Morsi was a complete disaster. As an engineer in power, he would have demonstrated what it takes to sustain his regime but failed woefully due to his complacency and obduracy. Morsi’s government was a regime because even though he emerged through the ballot box, Egypt has never been a full democracy. Morsi would have been a transitional regime to real democracy in the country, but he bungled the great opportunity to write his name in gold. He just did not demonstrate or develop sufficient understanding of what to do. That was why the military stepped in to stop the drift.
It is hoped that being the epicentre of Arab civilisation, Egypt will quickly get itself together. But people are still divided over what to call what happened last week. Many say it was a coup. Many others disagree, preferring to call it a popular revolution. Those who call it a people’s revolt or revolution may be right after all. However, in Jurisprudence, when a drastic change has been brought about outside the constitution, it amounts to a coup. Nevertheless, when you have an obdurate regime, a self-seeking, self-centred government, the military will always step in.
Therefore, the exit of Mohammed Morsi signals the collapse of religious politics in Egypt. This is because the Muslim Brotherhood politicised religion and stifled opposition. According to the Egyptian constitution, political parties are allowed to exist but religious political parties are not as they would not respect the principle of non-interference of religion in politics and that religion has to remain in private sphere so as to respect all beliefs. The Muslim Brotherhood failed to take any cognisance of this.
Though the African Union has a non-obligatory clause not to recognise unconstitutional governments, but as the situation stands today, this may not hold much water in Egypt where a successful revolution has just taken place. While Egyptians are happy for the change, many African countries are mortified. I believe the other African States should only be wary of the military if the leaders are not accountable, if they are reckless or condoning corruption. These are sure recipes for military take-over!