x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Morsi must trust other parties if he hopes to succeed

If Egypt's president wants to be an effective leader, he will have to step outside of the fortress of paranoia he and the Brotherhood have erected.

For Egyptians, 2012 ended in exhaustion and gloom. A roller-coaster year finished on a bitter note as a divisive constitution was narrowly adopted. Recriminations flew back and forth among political factions, and the economy hit a new low as a result of the political crisis and the resulting postponement of a deal with the IMF.

The more sanguine shrug their shoulders and say Egypt will muddle along, as it so often has, and things will improve. But it is very difficult, for now, to be optimistic about where this country of 90 million people is headed. Because of the messy transition of the past two years, things are unfortunately likely to get worse - perhaps significantly worse - before they get better.

Trust, or the absence of it, is at the core of what ails Egypt. The most profound consequence of President Mohammed Morsi's autocratic decree of November 22, and its use to rush through a constitution, is the tone this set for the second Egyptian republic: ultra-partisan and sectarian. Elements of the state itself are torn between open rebellion and being co-opted.

The attitudes of key actors in the crisis have set their roles for some time to come: Mr Morsi's Brotherhood is triumphant but defensive and insecure. Its Salafi allies are newly insurgent and have gained new political leverage. So have a smattering of second-tier Islamist figures who now form the bulk of "national dialogue". The opposition is united, but only negatively - against Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood - and has yet to clarify what it stands for.

External actors, notably western ones, having chosen not to speak out against Mr Morsi's decree and the rushing of the constitution, are perceived as the objective allies of an Islamist movement with which they share few values.

The other major external source of political and economic support for Egypt, the GCC, is as divided as ever on the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt.

The dispute triggered by the November 22 decree will work itself out over months, partly through the parliamentary elections and, if any goodwill emerges on either side, also through the ill-defined "national dialogue" Mr Morsi has offered.

The Alliance of Islamic Forces will congeal into a permanent coalition, but surprises lurk in the Salafi camp, where wild-card politician Hazem Salah Abu Ismail could be the chief beneficiary of the Brotherhood's loss of popular support.

On the secular side, the question is whether the National Salvation Front can evolve from being merely an anti-Brotherhood platform into an effective electoral machine.

This would involve reconciling its conservative, liberal, leftist and revolutionary components, a big challenge considering the lack of internal discipline, particularly in drawing up candidate lists for the elections.

The immediate challenge, however, is not about politics but about governance. Six months into his presidential term, Mr Morsi's chief challenge is not the opposition but resistance within the state apparatus. The crisis over the constitution only confirmed the strong corporatism among state institutions; from the military to the judiciary to the diplomatic corps, each wants to be left to its own devices, beyond the reach of politicians.

The last month showed that at least half of Egypt's judges oppose Mr Morsi, as do many of its diplomats. Across the bureaucracy, there are pockets of resistance.

Mr Morsi's advisers have complained of acts of sabotage against their administration from the police - who under Hosni Mubarak kept busy suppressing the Brotherhood - and also stubborn resistance from other parts of the administration, even Mr Morsi's own cabinet.

Thus far Mr Morsi has picked his battles. He has attacked the judiciary full-on, with Islamists intimidating judges and staging protests against specific courts. But the military, which shows growing signs of unease with his style, he has cajoled with constitutional concessions.

He reached a (temporary?) accommodation with the intelligence service that continues to handle key foreign policy matters. The interior ministry has also remained largely untouched.

To some extent, any president would have inherited the same situation. But Mr Morsi being a Muslim Brother has made things more difficult, since some officials see themselves as a vanguard against "Brotherhoodisation" of the state, and so see their relationship with him as necessarily hostile.

But Mr Morsi has also eschewed the less-partisan style of leadership that might have built trust. He appointed lacklustre ministers, not one of them a major political figure.

Most damaging have been his aggressive reversals of style and economic policy, which international markets read as panic or ineptitude, so that the Egyptian pound has tumbled in recent weeks.

If Mr Morsi cannot get a grip, if he cannot effectively govern Egypt, his days in power will be numbered.

His record thus far, lacking vision in administration and without finesse in reassuring Egypt's elites that he is not at war with them, is not promising.

If he is to succeed, he will have to take a risk, stepping out of the fortress of paranoia he and the Brotherhood have erected. He will have to take some chances, including the risk of trusting some of those outside his political family.

 

Issandr El Amrani is an independent journalist based in Cairo and a visiting fellow at the European Center for Foreign Relations. He blogs at www.arabist.net

On Twitter: @arabist