In the past week, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has rescinded two controversial decrees he made after coming under pressure from the opposition and from within his own political party, raising worries among former advisers about the president’s decision-making process.
The first edict was a constitutional declaration issued on November 22 that gave Morsi sweeping powers and forbade the courts from striking down his decisions. The decree divided the country, sparked huge public protests, and led several Morsi advisers to resign in protest.
The second decision, issued on December 9, would have increased taxes. It was rejected by Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party just hours after it was published, out of fear it would upset voters ahead of Saturday’s referendum on a new constitution. Morsi rescinded the decree the same day.
Since taking office in late June, Morsi has also been forced to scrap two other major edicts after meeting strong political opposition and legal hurdles. One was a decree to reinstate the dissolved parliament, the other to remove the public prosecutor.
These incidents have been coupled with the resignations of several Morsi advisers and accusations by Morsi’s opponents that he defers major decisions to the Muslim Brotherhood.
A good listener
Morsi decree prompts mass protests in Egyptian cities
Former Morsi advisers describe a president who is open to all ideas and shows respect. Yet, they complain, they don’t know how he reaches his final decisions or who comprises his inner circle of trusted aides.
“The president listens very carefully,” says Ayman Al Sayyad, one of eight Morsi advisers and aides who resigned over Morsi’s constitutional declaration. “He never pressured me to say something or the other,” Al Sayyad told Al Jazeera.
“I tell him exactly what I feel. He listens to a very wide circle of advisers and experts. Yet, decision taking is different. I don’t know who makes final decisions.”
Al Sayyad and other advisers are keen to show respect for their former boss. They say they were forced to resign after finding their opinions did not influence the president’s decisions, and after some civilians were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents over the president’s controversial constitutional declaration.
Samir Morcos, a Coptic writer who worked as Morsi’s aide for democratic transformation, wrote that he resigned after feeling that his role was useless. “The constitutional declaration surprised me. I was never consulted about it. This reflects a real problem when it comes to the value of the presidential team.”
Upon taking office, Morsi said he wanted to change how decisions were made during Mubarak’s presidency, in which a close circle of trusted advisers controlled an opaque process.
Accordingly, Morsi appointed a large presidential team including a vice president, four aides, 17 members of an advisory council, a chief of staff, a legal adviser, and several secretaries from his presidential campaign.
His team included known experts, activists, and intellectuals from various political backgrounds, and was presented as heralding a new era of openness and diversity.
“I was very enthusiastic about the idea,” said Morcos to a local TV channel after resigning his post. He said Morsi asked him to follow issues related to democratic transformation, to meet with political groups, and to work as a bridge between them and the president. It all went well at first, he said, but eventually he became unable to reach or talk to the president.
“I have no clear information if the Muslim Brotherhood is the final entity making decisions,” Morcos said. “But what is clear to me is there are decisions made away from us.”
Egypt’s challenging political environment also presents hurdles. Mohamed Esmat Seif El-Dewla, another adviser who has resigned, told Al Jazeera decision-making under Morsi was like “walking in an uncharted landmine field”.
El-Dewla believes Morsi should be given more time before judging his performance as president. He noted that Morsi is the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, has been in office for only five months, faces many political and economic problems created under Mubarak’s regime, and is being pushed from several directions by foreign countries, political parties, and forces opposed to the revolution.
El-Dewla also thinks Morsi needs more time to develop his strategy and specific goals, and to understand the new political environment in which he is working. “Who could have predicted that a decision to remove [the] public prosecutor, which has been a demand by pro-revolution forces, would create such counter-reaction?” El-Dewla asked.
Advisers who have resigned also complain that dividing pro-revolution forces into “Islamist” and “non-Islamist” camps has weakened all of them. They urge the president to focus on a concrete political and economic programme, to build consensus among the various pro-revolution forces, and warn against any attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to monopolise the decision-making process.
However, the desire for unity and consensus is not shared by all the president’s advisers. Dr Khaled Alam Al Deen, Morsi’s adviser for the environment and a senior leader of Egypt’s main Salafi party, Al Nour, thinks the way Morsi selected his presidential team was a mistake.
He believes Morsi was “forced” to appoint some of his advisers from outside the Islamist camp in order to build a team that appeared diverse, resulting in a team divided between “Islamists” and “non-Islamists”, he told Al Jazeera.
Morsi gives himself far-reaching powers
Alam Al Deen said those who resigned had acted based on “political attitudes” instead of “specific policies”. He did not blame Morsi for not informing his advisers about the constitutional declaration and other controversial decisions. “Issues discussed inside the advisory council were leaked to media as soon as they exit the meeting,” he complained, calling on Morsi to instead appoint a more “politically homogenous team”.
Ayman Ali, Morsi’s adviser for Egyptians living abroad and a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, denied reports about divisions within the presidential team. He thinks the role of Morsi’s advisers should be better defined to avoid confusion.
“An adviser is just someone who gives advice on his area of expertise. The president is the one who is in charge of decision-making,” he said. Morsi should keep his administration open to a diverse set of advisers, he believes, but the president should better explain what he expects of them.
“Let’s remember how Mubarak acted in his first two years in power. He lacked expertise and understanding on many issues. “
– Amr Hashem Rabie, analyst
Some analysts, however, think the problem could be bigger. Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, a socialist political science professor at Cairo University, told Al Jazeera “the way decisions are made show that [the] president does not surround himself with [the] right or capable advisers”.
El-Sayed fears that Morsi’s presidential team lacks needed specialisation and expertise, depends on advisers who are loyal to Morsi’s religious-political project, and does not rely on expertise within ministries and state institutions. Morsi, he argues, acts more on ideology than on clear-headed policy.
Amr Hashem Rabie, head of the democratic transformation unit at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, shares similar concerns.
He worries that Morsi does not have enough experience as a president, has too many advisers who disagree with one another, and depends increasingly on a set of “unofficial advisers” from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Nevertheless, Rabie retains some optimism, pointing to Egypt’s previous president, Hosni Mubarak.
“Let’s remember how Mubarak acted in his first two years in power. He lacked expertise and understanding on many issues,” he told Al Jazeera. But, Rabie continued, “he learned over time”.
Follow Alaa Bayoumi on Twitter: @Alaabayoumi