Since becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi has had a firsthand view of the difficulties of governing a country going through turbulent democratic transition. While he is ruling over a polarized society, his management of the country’s economy and politics has been inconsistent at best and ineffective at worst. As economic and political pressures are mounting on the Morsi administration, the country’s stability has become a crucial litmus test for his regime’s survival. The ongoing unrests could even raise the possibility of the military’s return to politics.
Morsi’s attempts to strengthen executive power came under a stark scrutiny with the vociferous opposition to the nation’s draft constitution in the late 2012. Following the recent protests on the anniversary of Port Said incident, in which 74 people were killed in a soccer stadium, Morsi’s imposition of the martial law on the three cities of Suez, Ismailiya, and Port Said, along with new trend of events in Egypt, points toward the adoption of authoritarian style of governance to maintain law and order. Likewise, Morsi’s move to gradually transform the state identity from a secular one into an Islamic one has backfired.
An intriguing question looms: Where is Egypt headed? It appears that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, now represented by the Freedom and Justice Party, is less keen on following in the footsteps of its Turkish counterpart, the Justice and Development (AK) Party, which has skillfully blended a secular constitution with a clear socio-political Islamic identity. Morsi’s attempt to push Egypt’s new constitution through in 2012 did little to embrace the Turkish model. It appears that among competing models of Islamism in the region (Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia) it is the Tunisian counterpart—Ennahda—that might have a realistic chance of becoming a model of political Islam in the Arab Maghreb. Tunisians have fundamentally different approaches toward Islamic values in politics, especially when compared to other Islamist models in the region, as Tunisian leaders try to blend some aspects of religion and politics within a broader secular context. A less frequently raised but important question is: Will Muslim Brotherhood leaders accept such a comparison to the Tunisian Ennahda? Many experts argue that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has much deeper roots than its counterparts, not only in Egypt, but throughout the Arab world.
Morsi’s modus operandi and leadership style, relying heavily on advisers associated with the Freedom and Justice Party and rushing through a new but controversial constitution, has put him on the losing side of democratic transition in Egypt. Moreover, his administration has failed to engage young people, a factor that seems essential to preserving the country’s fragile democracy. Morsi has taken a huge risk as his policies have turned large segments of the young population against the idea of constructing an Islamic identity for the Egyptian state. This failure, along with decentralization of information in the Internet age, renders Morsi’s inept government susceptible to wider public criticism and street unrest.
To be sure, Islamists have demonstrated their power at organizing action and mobilizing votes in the parliamentary elections. The real question is: Can they govern? It is worth noting that transitional phases are fraught with tensions and political uncertainties and thus difficult to manage. Despite these colossal challenges, hope is a reality that is present in the minds of the vast majority of Egyptians, especially young men and women who aspire for positive change. There is no denying that concrete demands for social justice and human rights—freedom, dignity, employment, and economic security—continue to inform the youth movement in their struggles in Egypt and beyond. The key for any government—headed by Islamists or others—intent on maintaining order and following democratic governance is to swiftly adapt to Egypt’s new political environment. Khalil al-Anani, a scholar of Middle East Studies at Durham University in England, rightfully notes: “No one can claim the authority of the street in the Arab world.” Morsi and his advisers will do well by not losing sight of the fact that the 2011 uprisings have drastically altered Egypt’s political landscape.
Mahmood Monshipouri, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at San Francisco State University. His forthcoming book is entitled, Democratic Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa: Youth, Technology, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Paradigm Publishers).
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