Egypt’s Revolution at Risk

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Shortly after being praised by Western observers for his crucial role in the Israel-Hamas negotiations, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi moved quickly to capitalize on his new-found prestige as a statesman. In one short declaration aimed at consolidating his power vis-à-vis other state institutions, Mursi set himself above both the judiciary and the parliament.  To many Egyptians, this latest move attests to the speed with which the Muslim Brotherhood has moved to consolidate its hold on power. As a result, many have expressed concerns that the gains of the last year and a half are on the brink of suffering a serious backslide.

Reacting to the news in its immediate aftermath, the Peninsula editorial expressed concerns over the fragility of Egypt’s transition to democracy, while warning the Egyptian president of the consequences of his actions: “As protests spiral and more Egyptians take to the streets, the president needs to weigh the pros and cons of his decision. Egypt is in a period of transition and there is a need to steer clear of anything that will be treated with suspicion and can cause controversy. What Egypt needs is a swift and complete transition to democracy. But unfortunately, the transition process has been painfully slow. Those who started the revolution and the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to oust Mubarak are worried that the revolution will be hijacked. For the same reason, they are unlikely to tolerate anything which will deprive them of the fruits of the revolution.”

Believing that Mursi’s actions will serve to bring a deeply divided opposition together, The Daily Star editorial argues “The reaction to Mursi’s decision is a manifestation of his failures to address political problems with a deft hand and a clear vision….Whatever the truth behind it, this decision has also united the opposition, where too Mursi has dangerously miscalculated, and has proved that despite the challenges of the last two years, Egypt’s independents, secularists and liberals still have the clout to draw many to the streets….The material damage of the current action is regrettable, and will cost the country unnecessarily. But it is the damage to the fabric of society that is of most concern, and is most likely to prove irreparable.”

For others, the decision can also be detrimental to Egypt’s regional aspirations. In an editorial, the Jordan Times staff note that in the aftermath of Mursi’s decision: “the American friends in the region feel vindicated. They may talk to the Obama administration to reverse its pro-reform policy. That said, the continuous turns and twists in the incomplete Egyptian revolution may lead to the consolidation of a third way political current. The Islamists-military duality in Egypt is coming to an end. In months to come, liberals and non-Islamists may get their act together and form a formidable alliance that can contest the next election. The current political crisis can serve as a catalyst for a more competitive political system in Egypt. One, however, should not anticipate a setback in Egypt. A new Egypt may emerge and it will be a model for all in the region.”

Arab News’ Abdul Rahman Rashed also expresses concern, especially judging by what has taken place in the region over the last couple of years: “Mursi and his Brotherhood party have committed the same mistake Hamas did when the latter turned against the authority in Gaza. Turabi and his Islamic Front also did the same in Sudan when they turned against the only democratic government in the Arab world at that time….All of them reached power in the name of fighting dictatorial rule calling for the establishment of civilian and democratic rule. But we later saw them grabbing all power….If President Mursi does not revoke his decisions within the next few days, Egypt would enter into a new tunnel of tension and its short period of democratic spring would come to an end.”

In fact, domestic political forces have reacted vociferously against the decree with some characterizing it as a coup while others calling Mursi a self-annointed ‘pharaoh’. But, as the Gulf Today put it recently, the opposition will need to move beyond just talking to affect the future of Egypt: “The young revolutionaries who led the revolt which overthrew Mubarak are indeed angry since they have not been able to gain much from the rebellion after the Muslim Brotherhood and fellow Islamist Salafists dominated the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections. Their only way to make a difference is through general elections to be held early next year under the new constitution that is being drawn up. But they have to organize themselves first.”

For Ghassan Charbel, last week’s developments in Egypt raise some serious questions about the post-Arab Spring reality in many of the countries that have experienced regime change in the last couple of years. In an op-ed for Al Hayat, Charbel correctly points out that “The Arabs who celebrated the eruptions of the Arab Spring cannot shield themselves from many ensuing questions today. While not yet nostalgic for the old regimes, which were indeed terrible, the Arabs have a shaken confidence, a perturbed sense of direction, and feel the tension of those who had danced in celebration of their victory in the public squares….Is it true that Hosni Mubarak was the only major problem in Egypt? If so, then why is it still widely believed that the Egyptian ship has not yet sailed, and why is there so much fog over Cairo, with a river of questions, doubts and fears flowing in its streets? …Indeed, it is not enough to topple the president if those who behind it have nothing but old medicines and outdated ideas that the world has moved beyond. Everything suggests that the transition in this or that country will be saddled with disappointments and pains.”

Meanwhile, in op-ed for the Daily News (Egypt) Rana Allam sarcastically declares that Mursi’s actions can’t be understood except for as an act of selflessness: “It is all for the greater good. The deaths and the injuries, the blinded and the crippled are a small price to pay….Temporary dictatorship. What does that mean? Whipping us for an unspecified amount of time? Isn’t every dictatorship temporary, or doesn’t it at least start as such? Where was this in the deal when he became our president? Regardless of whether we voted for Morsy or not, there is a democratic process here; a president cannot assume these powers in a public decree….He had to force us into submission and obedience. Because this is what it is all about in the end, isn’t it? Obedience and submission is the way the organisation that rules this country runs. This is the only way they can control the country. So shut down the courts, silence the media, protect tomorrow’s whims and have a good noiseless night!”

Finally, Mohssen Arishi takes a more direct route to criticize what he believes are Mursi’s and his Muslim Brotherhood associates’ excesses: “the biggest casualty of Morsi granting himself absolute power is his own organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Islamist associates, including the Salafists. President Morsi’s keenness to address his supporters in Heliopolis could indicate that he decided to sever his relationship with former supporters in Tahrir Square, who rallied behind him in the presidential election…. In addition to winning the first free and transparent presidential election in decades, Morsi added another ground-breaking record: he is the first non-military man to rule Egypt in more than 200 years…. Regardless of the historical records, President Morsi decided to act like a military ruler and tighten his grip on the nation. But will Morsi’s draconian measures save the sinking ship?”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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