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Morsi and the “Brotherhoodization” of the State

On Friday, June 29, 2012, newly elected president Morsi entered Tahrir Square. His entry was met with eruptions of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). The chants continued, interspersed with nationalist rallying cries, but a heavy religious undertone that was absent in the square during the revolution became palpable. President Morsi addressed the crowd, and in a show of confidence he opened his jacket to prove he was not wearing a bulletproof vest, stating that he had nothing to fear as the legitimate representative of Egypt’s uprising and also of the Egyptian state. He promised to be a “president for all Egyptians,” declaring that “the revolution must continue until all its objectives are met.”35 Morsi also made reference to the diminished presidential powers that the military under the scaf had just decreed, stating, “I promise you that I will not give up on any of the powers given to the president.” While it was clear from the outset that the Morsi administration was entering a hostile political landscape, it was not clear if the brotherhood was ready for governance. What the subsequent year would come to show was that Morsi and his administration were quite often not in control.36 The political landscape had shifted in the sixteen months since the revolution, and the scaf had ensured its position of power and ability to both undermine Morsi’s authority and sway public sentiment to its side. It seemed that it was easy to capitalize

go | Dalia Fahmy on the public perception that the brotherhood was out to “Brotherhoodize” the state—that is, to enter into an institution they historically were excluded from, and seize control of it.

The standoff between Morsi and the scaf began immediately. Two weeks after taking office, in a move to demonstrate his commitment to governance that reflected the will of the people, Morsi sought to assert his power and to reinstitute the previously dissolved parliament. However, the Supreme Constitutional Court (scc) overturned his decree and handed over legislative authority to the scaf. This caused Morsi to commit one of his first political mistakes: he vowed to respect the scc’s judicial ruling, a move he would reverse in the coming months. Publicly, Morsi began to appear weak.

Within a few months in office, Morsi began to discuss the massive Egyptian political bureaucracy, and publicly stated that it was replete with corruption, especially since the Mubarak-era loyalists (or remnants, fulool, as they became known) still controlled much of the political scene. The fulool composed much of the state security apparatus, the business elite, and the Egyptian media empires. They stood to lose much of their control of the state and the economy if Morsi continued to challenge them, and thus they embarked on an extensive media campaign to project Morsi and his administration as incompetent.37

The prosecutor general, a Mubarak appointee assigned to oversee the trials of those being prosecuted for the violence against civilians during the revolution, was acquitting many of the perpetrators. Morsi responded by dismissing him. However, after much outcry from other senior judges, who accused Morsi of executive overreach, the prosecutor general was reinstated. This move again caused Morsi to appear as an indecisive and weak leader.

However, the major battleground between Morsi and his opponents, who now came to include the secularist and the revolutionary forces, emerged during the constitutional drafting process. With the gap between Islamist forces, which now included members of al-Wasat Party, the Nour Party, and the Brotherhood, in clear view, secularists accused the Islamists of trying to “Islamize” and ultimately “Brotherhoodize” the state. The 2012 constitutional draft was almost identical to the Mubarak-era constitution. However, the main point of the 2012 constitution was Article 2, which stated that the principles of Sharia would continue to be the main sources of legislation, as had been the case since 1971, during the presidency of Sadat. Salafi members of the committee pushed for a more literalist interpretation of Sharia, while secularist wanted nothing of the sort. Secularists also pushed for greater discussion of constitutional clauses that remained unclear regarding the role of the state institutions in the judiciary, the independence of the judiciary, and military control.

The deadline for the completion of the drafting process was set for December 12, and with several debates not yet concluded, members of the constitutional drafting assembly began to resign. Those that resigned included former presidential candidate Amr Musa; leader of the liberal al-Ghad Party, Ayman Nour; leader of the liberal Wafd Party, Al-Sayid Badawi; members of the revolutionary forces (including members of the April 6 Movement); and representatives of the Coptic Church. It seemed that the only members left in the process were the Islamists. If the December 12 deadline was not met, the scc would issue a new assembly, and on December 2 the current assembly was due to be reviewed. This situation positioned Islamists against many of the other political voices, and threatened to undo the assembly. While the secular forces may have hoped that the scc would push for a new assembly, what they did not foresee was Morsi’s response—an act of power that may have been the tipping point that ultimately led to his fall.

In an attempt to thwart the scc’s dissolution of the assembly on November 22, Morsi issued a constitutional decree in which he limited the tenure of the prosecutor general from a lifetime appointment to a four-year term. He followed this by appointing a new prosecutor who, unlike his predecessor, was critical of the Mubarak regime. Morsi canceled all not-guilty verdicts that took place under the former prosecutor general, and appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate the crimes that had occurred during the revolution. However, in his greatest show of power, Morsi extended the December 12 deadline for the drafting process by two months, and to prevent the scc from overturning this, he banned any judicial review of the president until a new constitution was passed and a new parliament was elected. But the decree would go even further: there would be no judicial review of parliament by the scc. While this could have been seen as increasing the legislative power of parliament, it was also seen as an attempt by Morsi to issue himself more power and then protect a parliament that was sure to be overwhelmingly composed of brotherhood members. While he may have been trying to protect an increasingly faltering pol itical process, it seemed that Morsi was indeed Brotherhoodizing the state. And while he explained to the Supreme Judicial Council that this decree was temporary and would only apply to sovereign decisions and not administrative ones, it was too late. Morsi had given the scaf, the secularists, the fulool, and, most importantly, the revolutionaries, a reason to return to Tahrir, which lead to his removal from power by the military on July 3, 2013.

While the Muslim Brotherhood accepted the principle of democracy, it is not clear that it had anticipated electoral success, especially in a political climate that had for so long seen it as insular and untrustworthy. Though the ideological reform, political commitments, and organization of the brotherhood built under authoritarianism pushed it to the forefront of postrevolutionary Egypt, it seemed that its hard-line rhetoric in the face of increasing repression was making a comeback. The brotherhood, whose long-term political strategy was to participate in politics in order to influence but not usurp them, quickly became perceived as abandoning this strategy.

Although the brotherhood had been able to continue its commitment to Egypt’s increasing democratization, it remains unclear if it was ready for governing. Its political strategy of not contesting more than 30 percent of seats in parliamentary elections had proven to be an effective tool under Mubarak. However, in postrevolutionary Egypt, the system had changed, and the brotherhood no longer stood as a challenger to an authoritarian regime. Rather, it emerged as a challenger to a deeply entrenched military apparatus. With their vast control of the economy, the military had more power and much more political leverage than Mubarak did.38 Yet, more importantly, because the military was perceived as a facilitator and ally during the initial revolution, it also enjoyed a degree of public support the Mubarak did not. In this regard, the deck was stacked against the brotherhood and any group that stood to challenge the new political order.

The success of the brotherhood in the decade prior to the revolution may have helped lay the groundwork for an uprising that would ultimately topple Mubarak, but the deep state remained. And the political strategies that were successful during the limited political contestation could not be used to challenge the new political order, let alone lead to a strategy of governance. Ultimately, the conditions that led to the rise the brotherhood also led to its fall.

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