Big Questions for President Morsi
July 08, 2012
With Egypt’s new
president, Mohamed Morsi taking the oath of the high office, the political
party of the once-illegal Muslim Brotherhood officially reigns. But the Supreme
Council of the Armed Forced (SCAF), an inseparable lever of Egyptian
state autocracy, is still very much in charge.
To discuss Egypt’s
protracted power struggle, the Cairo
Review of Global Affairs
and the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force convened a round table
in Washington, D.C. last week. Leading analysts Samer
Shehata and Michael Wahid
Hanna reflected on their
recent visits to Egypt during the presidential balloting and assessed the
revolution’s progress, or lack thereof.
interesting that [President Morsi] went to see [SCAF Chairman] Tantawi instead
of Tantawi going to see him,” noted Georgetown Professor Samer Shehata in
describing just how little the underlying Egyptian power dynamics have changed.
If one were to
deconstruct Cairo’s politics since January 2011, the three strongest forces
vying for power are SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the protest movement in
Tahrir Square and beyond. Despite temporary alliances, no one political actor
can control all of the three.
with the SCAF. I asked Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation,
about the military’s
outlook: whether its
heavy-handed marshaling of Egypt’s transition exemplifies a stroke of evil
genius or bungling impulsiveness.
days, it has become clear that we have underestimated SCAF’s ideological
viewpoints,” said Hanna. The military is “not going to turn over the government
to the [Muslim Brotherhood]. They are just not going to do it… The big question
will be, where are those red lines that Morsi can’t cross. The Ministries of
Defense, Interior, and Justice are off limits.”
Brotherhood and its affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) face tremendous challenges,
too. Although no other political party or candidate could compete with their
political machine and electoral prowess, the pressure is now on Morsi.
For the new
president, the first order of business must be to mend the economy. “Egypt is
on the verge of an economic crisis,” Shehata said. But the FJP is “pursuing an
approach that is akin to Mubarak era policies but without the rampant
corruption that characterized the deposed autocrat.”
Brotherhood’s overtly neoliberal economic strategies, Washington might find it
easier to work with the Freedom and Justice Party than Fox News might have you
believe. “They see eye to eye with Western businessmen, and they prioritize
this as the bridge with the West,” Hanna said. The FJP is basically saying, “Look,
we can all get along, we’re happy to have [Foreign Direct Investment] and we’re
not going radicalize anything.”
question is how a Morsi presidency will address the revolutionary protest
movement, many of whom voted for him in the June 16-17 run-off. “It’s also
important to acknowledge that there is a wild card in this equation which is
political pressure from below,” said Hesham Sallam, the Egypt editor of the web
magazine Jadaliyya, which means controversy
Brotherhood, “won’t stand up to SCAF and won’t attack full force security
sector reform, [or a] redistributive agenda—issues that are front and center,” Sallam
explained. Don’t expect a Morsi presidency to make “any headway on the
principles of the revolution.”
institutional impediments than just SCAF or Muslim Brotherhood politicking
remain. After decades of authoritarian mismanagement, one must take into
account the entrenched institutions for which there has been no revolution.
Shehata explained that the “tremendous weight of the Egyptian state” poses a
threat to widespread reform. “It’s going to be difficult and long going to make
significant progress… considering the weight of the 6 million person Egyptian state
Nancy Okail, the
Egypt director of Freedom House, added that for those holding the real seats of
power there has been “musical chairs, but not real shifts or change.”
I returned to Cairo
a week later to find the country very much in limbo. Last month, the military disbanded
the elected parliament and issued constitutional edicts that will reshape
Egypt’s laws to the old guard’s favor. The conflicting agendas of the military,
the Brotherhood, and the street will continue to set the stage for the next
period of transition. It’s not over yet.
The real question
is whether President Morsi will continue to engage in backroom deals with the
military or address head-on the grievances of Tahrir protesters. He won’t be
able to play both sides forever.
Jonathan Guyer is associate editor of
the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. He previously served as a program associate
for the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force in Washington, DC, and
as assistant editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel. He has contributed
to the Guardian, Inter Press Service, the BBC, and France24. He can be followed
on Twitter at @mideastXmidwest.