The day Mohamed Morsi was elected as the first civilian president of Egypt in June last year most reform minded people were hopeful. With many leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood Morsi spent many years in prison. No doubt they would do everything to change this ‘society of paranoia’, wouldn’t they? In his first speech as elected president Morsi also promised to form an inclusive government and to appoint a female and a Coptic vice-president. The main question back in June was how Morsi would deal with the army. In a ‘mini-coup’ the army curtailed the president’s position and absolved the People’s Assembly.
And yes, Morsi’s first decisions were bold. He tried to reinstall the People’s Assembly. He turned back the ‘mini-coup’ of the army and took the power back. On top of this he fired Field-Marshall Tantawi (and his number two Sami Anan), to replace him with general Sisi. Morsi also appointed as his presidential advisors people from all over the political and religious spectrum. All these steps were of major importance. Not only for Egypt that seemed to be on the way to a rapid reform from a autocratic to a democratic state. The entire world was watching closely.
Moreover, it is hard to underestimate the leading role of Egypt in the Arab world. Egypt is by far the most populated country and claims the historical leadership of the Arab society. Not less important is the fact that the largest political organisation in the Arab world has its origins and its leadership in Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is like the communist party in Russia in times of the Soviet-Union. All sister parties in the region are following very closely what they are saying and doing.
Generous in victory, gracious in defeat.
Contrary to their promises the Muslim Brotherhood was not very generous in victory. No female or Coptic vice-president was appointed. The government appeared to be not inclusive. The presidential advisors from outside the Brotherhood were not listened to, while the ones of the Brotherhood had nothing to say. Very soon the old underground culture of following orders instead of discussing them found back its place at the presidential palace. What came back as well was suspicion: every one is against us. The consequence was a bunker mentality: outside the bunker there is a huge conspiracy against the Muslim Brotherhood. The only option is to fight back.
So, that’s what the Muslim Brotherhood did, fighting back. First they replaced the editors in chief of most of the main newspapers. Then they tried to sideline liberal and Coptic voices in the Constitutional Committee. Then Morsi took all power by presidential decree. He sidelined the Constitutional Court and installed his own public prosecutor. He finished the Constitution and put it to a referendum two weeks later.
As the reaction of the people was much bigger than they thought, the Muslim Brothers saw their conspiracy theory confirmed. The only way was fighting back even harder. On the streets and by court. The new public prosecutor started accusing opposition politicians, activists and random people in the street.
However, it must be said that the opposition wasn’t gracious in defeat either. After they organized themselves in the National Salvation Front (NSF) they boycotted as good as everything. By doing so the NSF didn’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They refused to talk to president Morsi, to vice-president Mekki and to the Muslim Brotherhood. They boycotted the Constitutional Committee, the referendum and the elections. If 38 percent of the Egyptians went to vote against the referendum, it was despite and not thanks to the opposition.
The collapse is becoming very close.
If all political turmoil would happen in an economic prosperous environment, then the citizens would react with increasing apathy. Unfortunately, the exact contrary is happening. Morsi launched his presidential decree and the constitution during the negotiations with the IMF. Although the IMF is politically neutral, turmoil and fights in the street does make them doubt about the political stability and thus the ability to reform.
Today the IMF doubts proved to be right. No deal has been made. This means that Egypt misses a loan of in total 14,5 billion dollar as the loans of institutions as the EU, the EBRD and the African Union are connected to the one of the IMF. At the same time the Egyptian Pound is faltering, power cuts become a daily issue, rows of cars and trucks waiting for diesel are growing. Tourism – the main source of income – is a disaster. Investors are waiting, while large foreign companies are one after the other leaving the country.
For the average Egyptian the cost of living is becoming a nightmare. The anger is clearly growing. And instead of seeing politicians working hard to improve this situation, they see them fighting and taking decisions about blocking porn on the internet or allowing police officers to grow a beard. Instead of creating an investment friendly environment, the Muslim Brothers are targeting activists, journalists and comedians for insulting the president or insulting religion.
The question is not if but when it will explode.
It is hard to overestimate the anger and the fear of the Egyptian people. You could compare it with a room full of gas. It only needs one spark in order to make it explode. That spark could well be the subsidies for bread and energy that need to be reformed. The last time Egypt tried to cut subsidies was in 1977, under Sadat; it immediately lead to the only uncontrollable riots ever. If we see the anarchy today in cities as Port Said, Suez or Malhalla, it is clear that no party will be able to control the streets if the situation explodes.
In the meantime, president Morsi and his government are making the one mistake after the other. It’s as if the Muslim Brotherhood is on a suicide mission. Not only for Egypt but also for the entire Arab world. The same day Morsi issued his decree in November 2012, the protest for political reform in Jordan halted as they feared only the Jordanian Muslim Brothers would profit from it. A few days ago the Syrian Muslim Brothers even complained that their Egyptian counterparts were ruining their reputation.
We know from history that the situation of Egypt is not exceptional. France for example did eighty years from revolution to a stable democracy. And the transition in Central-Europe took almost two decades. History teaches us that the biggest danger in times of collapse and anarchy is the rise of a new populist or a new strong man. That could be someone like the Salafist Abu Ismael or again someone of the army. That would bring the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the opposition back to square one.
But that doesn’t mean chaos is the only way. Although it is already very late, it isn’t too late to move this country forward. Egypt has everything: natural resources, a young ambitious population and the most attractive touristic combination in the world. The only thing that is needed is parties and politicians forgetting their ego and their honour and start a real dialogue about solving problems together. The last window of opportunity is closing rapidly. Dear politicians, for the sake of the people of Egypt, don’t miss this last chance. Otherwise, there will be no winners left.
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Categories: Koert Debeuf Column