King of the ashes in Egypt

The June 30 protests aim to effectively press the reset button on the mangled post-Mubarak transition, writes Al-Arian.

    "From the economy to preserving basic peace and security, on almost every score, Morsi’s presidency has failed to deliver," writes Professor Al-Arian [Al Jazeera]
    "From the economy to preserving basic peace and security, on almost every score, Morsi’s presidency has failed to deliver," writes Professor Al-Arian [Al Jazeera]

    “He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” That is one of the standout lines from the third season of Game of Thrones but there is no shortage of figures in Egypt befitting that statement. From the Islamist government to the multifarious opposition, the nation’s warring political factions are set for a destructive showdown for control of the country’s future. The mass protests scheduled for June 30 aim to remove President Mohamed Morsi from power, abolish the hastily passed constitution, and effectively press the reset button on the mangled post-Mubarak transition that began with the former dictator’s removal in February 2011. 

    As with previous confrontations among Egypt’s political actors, there are no scenarios that are likely to result in an outcome beneficial to the majority of the population. His attempted deflection of criticism in last Wednesday’s speech notwithstanding, most Egyptians are suffering the consequences of the Morsi government’s failures, the ensuing political stalemate, devastating economic collapse, and lack of security and basic services. 

    Having achieved decisive victories in every election they have contested, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders have spent much of the last year consolidating their gains, attempting to establish a foothold within the state’s institutions, and marginalising the nation’s other political forces in the process. From the economy to preserving basic peace and security, on almost every score, Morsi’s presidency has failed to deliver. Even when considering the unrealistic expectations made of him and the thankless task of overcoming three decades of rampant corruption, ineffective governance, and abuse of power in a matter of months, the past year has only further exposed the Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation ill-equipped for the monumental task of governing Egypt, or at least doing so alone.

    While one can outline the long list of missteps and excesses committed by Morsi over the course of his brief presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood’s posture can be traced back to the underlying decision to put stock in a process that promised to deliver few of the revolution’s demands. Rather than establishing a strong partnership with the groups on the front lines in the fight for social justice and the rule of law, the Muslim Brotherhood hedged its bets by committing its energies to the military-led transition, hoping to coerce the institutions of the state to work in its favour, rather than push for a total reformation that could have realised some of the objectives that led millions of Egyptians to take to the streets in the first place. Decades of mistrust of other political forces and a deep obsession with controlling the levers of power have only been further entrenched within the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership in recent months. In his mad rush to establish an unshakable claim to democratic legitimacy, Morsi neglected the business of actual effective governance upon which such a claim should have been based. 

    Within the opposition, however, only the small contingent of revolutionary groups, led mostly by the nation’s urban youth movement, escape charges of hypocrisy and opportunism. Having consistently stood against the post-Mubarak transition, from the military-sponsored referendum to last summer’s presidential elections, these groups continue to call for the implementation of genuine changes to Egypt’s governing institutions and socioeconomic structures. In that light, the June 30 protest should be viewed in the spirit of the original January 25, 2011 calls for bread, freedom, and social justice. 

    However, the revolutionaries have also been joined by figures whose commitment to Egypt’s democratic transition appears directly tied to their personal political fortunes. Ironically, this is a charge frequently levelled against the Muslim Brotherhood, with little evidence to support it considering the group has yet to lose at the polls. Among Egypt’s smaller political parties and failed presidential candidates, obstructionism became the overriding agenda from day one of the Morsi presidency. Whether as a result of their deep opposition to Islamism as a guiding ideology or an inflated sense of their own political abilities, these diverse forces have coalesced into a united front that has repeatedly escalated the confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

    Having made the calculation that it is preferable to bring down the elected government than to engage with it, Mohamed ElBaradie, Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi, along with other leaders, have done more than their share to lead to the current impasse. In a classic example of political Schadenfreude, these figures have spurned multiple opportunities to diffuse tensions and reach a negotiated solution with the government, instead taking particular delight in Morsi’s policy failures, though it is the Egyptian people who have suffered most as a result. In the most recent example, virtually none of the opposition parties chose to submit candidates for governor posts, leading to Morsi’s disastrous decision to appoint a former jihadist as governor of Luxor, an important tourist destination. Adel el-Khayat’s Construction and Development Party was one of the few to put forward a name.

    Perhaps more alarmingly, these elements within the opposition have resorted to tactics that threaten to undo the progress, limited as it is, that Egypt has made over the past thirty months. By beseeching the corrupt and compromised remnants of the Mubarak regime to exert their influence on the current political stalemate, ElBaradie and others have abandoned any pretence to being supporters of the January 25 uprising. Furthermore, by calling upon the military to reclaim the reins of power yet again, these leaders dishonour the sacrifice of all those killed and injured in their struggle against the direct rule of the Egyptian military and its efforts to restrain the revolution before it could achieve all of its aims. 

    The Muslim Brotherhood has also been accused of turning its back on the victims of the former regime and its remnants and rightfully so, but the call for a return of those destructive forces is not only dangerous but politically shortsighted and will undoubtedly set the country back for years. 

    During his recent address, Morsi singled out by name the less savoury figures who have placed their political, economic, and media clout in the service of undermining his government and returning Egypt to the old order. Though he readily acknowledged his own shortcomings as president, Morsi’s attempts to sow division within the ranks of the opposition can only serve to make it more obstinate, barring any possibility for reconciliation. 

    The dangerous rhetoric threatens to escalate into violence across all groups vying for power and paves the way for the original dealers of death and destruction to resurface. With every speech and public statement serving as a battle cry for the looming confrontation, Egypt will be made to pay a heavy price so that the prevailing faction can rule over whatever is left of it.

    Abdullah Al-Arian is an Assistant Professor of History at Wayne State University, where he specialises in the modern Middle East.@anhistorian

    You can follow Abdullah on twitter @anhistorian



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