By Tahir Ahmad
May 20, 2015
The execution of political dissent in Egyptian politics is not an unusual occurrence; in fact it is a common incident in what are considered ‘closed’ societies and dictatorial regimes. In Mohamed Morsi’s trial however, there are certain factors which can be considered responsible for this verdict that may even lead to his execution. These include his political background, the internal dynamics of Egyptian politics and the external factors. Furthermore, while some of the immediate charges leveled against him during his trial are separate from the policies that led to his political isolation, they are nonetheless closely connected with his trial.
Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), an organization which was banned after the assassination of Anwer Sadat. Since then, the pre-election arrest of MB members has become a matter of routine. The MB agenda is known to be crowned by the desire to impose Islamic-based governance in the country, which places it at odds with military regime. The MB also opposes the friendly foreign policy of Egypt towards Israel and the United States. Thus it was expected that the once/if the MB came to power, civil-military relations would worsen.
The government of Egypt should seek a political resolution, as confrontation ensuing from a political execution will bring further instability to the state, as well as dilute the strength of the armed forces.
On assuming power, Morsi initiated measures for reducing the powers of the armed forces; he removed several military officers from key administrative positions, and introduced civilian oversight of the finances as well as procurement related matters – a move that infuriated the entire military establishment of the country. At this point, the military simply needed a feasible pretext on account of which Morsi could be unseated, and the military could regain its lost prestige since the fall of Mubarak.
Such a pretext was provided by the rift that occurred between Morsi and his coalition partners over power-sharing and constitutional amendments. In the parliamentary elections, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP is a political extension of the banned MB, led by Morsi) and the Salafist Al-Nour party came to the fore as the majority parties, both in the Shura Council and the Lower House. Other parties sitting on the opposition benches won only eight percent of the parliamentary seats. The rift between the two parties occurred due to matters related to
ministerial positions. Al-Nour accused Mosri and the MB of failing to fulfill their promise related to ministerial positions for its members. Furthermore, the chief of the Al-Nour party, Younis Makhyoun, threatened to reveal a report that would expose Morsi’s policies of “Ikhwanisation” – a strategy that, according to him, was based on the appointment of 13 MB members as governors and thousands of others in key positions. In the opposition, the National Salvation Front (NSF) was against the text of the Constitution, which it claimed had certain controversial clauses regarding the powers of the President and Islamic law. The Al-Nour party was against the removal of the clauses related to Islamic law, but held similar opinions regarding the powers of the president. This rift among the political parties left Morsi politically isolated at the domestic front; an isolation which was further reinforced by the international factors.
Internationally, the steps taken by Mohamed Morsi were viewed with confusion in the United States and the Gulf Countries, who had traditionally maintained close ties with Egyptian Army. Morsi’s relations with the Gulf States were based around two factors: the relations of the coalition partner, the Salafist Al-Nour party and Morsi’s relations with Iran. The weakening relations with his coalition partner and his visit to Iran were viewed as an attempt to seek alternatives to the previous policies of Egypt under Mubarak.
The other international factor was the role of the United States, which has always been deeply concerned with the security of Israel, and thus maintained close relations with Egypt. The rise of Morsi however, saw these close relations deteriorate, as the MB was against the clientele relationship of the Egyptian Army with the United States.
The Subsequent Vortex
In addition to the internal as well as international isolation, Morsi’s downfall can be traced to one essential factor; the state-society relations under his regime. Although Morsi had popular legitimacy to begin with, he did not initiate policies which could strengthen his position against the military establishment. His predecessor, Hosni Mubarak had centralized powers in the hands of the few, and policies based on privatization, liberalization, and tourism had disillusioned the workers who, over the years, took to the streets in mass protests. Mubarak had dispossessed the people of their political liberties and civil freedom which forced the Egyptian working class, constituting the majority of population, to overthrow his regime. It is noteworthy that Morsi focused only on the agenda of the MB, and ignored other areas which were the among the root causes of the revolution. Thus, he distanced himself from the masses and became increasingly unpopular.
Taking advantage of this situation, the military staged a demonstration against Morsi with the help of the opposition parties. Morsi’s coalition partners remained neutral, which is considered by the greater part of the population to be the result of a tacit agreement between them and the establishment. As a consequence of the mass protests, staged or otherwise, the military was presented with the opportunity it sought, and a ready-made pretext to unseat Morsi and charge him with different crimes, including cases of espionage, jail break and abetment in murder.
The recent verdict by military-backed courts is certain to bring protests from the members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as people from civil society. It will be difficult for the Sisi regime to gain popularity as the political and civil segments of society will be reminded of past experiences, which may put them at odds with the military regime. This situation is further complicated by challenges like the matter of the Coptic Christians in the Egypt, the threat of Islamic State, and the involvement of Egyptian forces against the Houthis in Yemen.
The matter of Coptic Christians and IS could potentially garner US support, and participation against Houthis in Yemen will invite the Saudi-led GCC in forging closer relations. This relationship can then be used by Gen Sisi to attract the political support of the Salafist Al-Nour Party. Against this backdrop the Army and Gen Sisi appear to be in a strong position against Morsi. Nonetheless, the priorities of the general populace, if effectively mobilized by the MB members, could trigger another lot of mass protests and violence.
The government of Egypt should seek a political resolution, as confrontation ensuing from a political execution will bring further instability to the state, as well as dilute the strength of the armed forces. A constitutional arrangement based on inclusion and plurality can best resolve the current political problems faced by Egypt. Moreover, the government should address the problems of the working class majority, which continue to persist and were in fact the primary cause of the revolution, and could resurface again in the form of mass protests and internal violence. For peace to prevail a political solution based on the aspirations of the common populace are vital, and necessary for returning political stability to Egypt.