x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Politically tone-deaf Morsi has over-played his hand

All politicians disappoint and revolutionary leaders can disappoint on a grand scale. But protests such as those now planned for Egypt signal a deeper loss of support for Mohammed Morsi.

In the 12 months since Mohammed Morsi won Egypt's first democratic election, the anti-government camp in the country has expanded enormously, and now it threatens to overwhelm his presidency.

Less than two weeks from now, on Sunday, June 30, the anti-Morsi movement hopes to bring millions of supporters into the streets to speak with one voice in demanding snap presidential elections.

The group organising the protests, Tamarrod (Rebel), has collected 15 million names on a petition saying Egyptians have withdrawn confidence from Mr Morsi.

At the same time the National Salvation Front, an opposition umbrella group, has said it will field only one candidate in any new presidential election, hoping to avoid splitting the vote.

The anti-government camp, whose constituent groups have for so long been more suspicious of each other than of either the army or the Muslim Brotherhood, is now clearly coalescing against the Brotherhood.

So is public opinion. The findings of two recent surveys back up the other indications of loss of confidence in Mr Morsi.

The Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research found that 54 per cent of respondents were in favour of early presidential elections, with only 30 per cent saying they would re-elect Mr Morsi.

Another poll, by the US-based Zogby Research Services, found that just 28 per cent of those sampled view Mr Morsi's presidency "positively". Meanwhile an overwhelming 70 per cent of those polled agreed that they fear that the Muslim Brotherhood "intends to Islamise the state".

How, Mr Morsi might be asking himself in his darker moments, did it come to this?

The answer lies in another recent piece of political news. On Sunday, the president appointed 17 new regional governors. The one who garnered the most attention was Adel El Khayyat, the new governor of Luxor.

Mr El Khayyat is hardly a household name. But his appointment matters, because he used to be a member of Jamaa Islamiya, the former terrorist group responsible for a 1997 massacre in Luxor. The group has since renounced violence, and an off-shoot of it holds seats in the Egyptian parliament.

There is no suggestion that Mr El Khayyat was himself involved in the attacks in Luxor. But Mr Morsi shows spectacular tone-deafness, bordering on contempt, in failing to realise that such an appointment would bring a backlash.

Mistakes like this one are the real reason Mr Morsi's support has drained away. Repeatedly, he has either misread the mood of the public, or simply not cared for its views. (Those subscribing to the second theory had ample evidence last November, when he railroaded through a controversial constitution.)

Buoyed by his election victory, Mr Morsi over-reached. The 51.7 per cent of the vote he received in last year's election was enough to make him the legitimate leader of a transitional government. He held a post-Mubarak tenure in the name of most Egyptians.

But that fragile mandate was not sufficient for him, and his Freedom and Justice Party, to try and reshape Egyptian society.

A year ago, Mr Morsi pitched himself as the candidate on the side of the revolution, depicting the army's candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, as part of the Mubarak era and a counter-revolutionary. Steadily, Mr Morsi's claim has been eroded.

What he has actually done in his first year is govern in the narrow interests of his political base - so it is no surprise that only his base still supports him.

Nor is it even the case that Mr Morsi has become unpopular by taking tough decisions. Few of the challenges facing the region's largest country have been addressed.

The negotiations with the IMF over a US$4.8bn (Dh17.63bn) deal have still not been finalised.

Even when it is, the IMF deal will not solve Egypt's financial woes - US$4.8bn doesn't go very far in a country the size of Egypt, and the country looks to the deep pockets of the Gulf and, to a lesser extent, the US, to weather the storm.

But failure to land the loan is indicative of a general lack of focus on what really matters. After months of on/off negotiations, the government last month named a new IMF negotiating team - led by an academic more familiar with the world of religion than the specifics of finance.

In some ways, it is natural for Mr Morsi to be unpopular. All politicians disappoint and revolutionary leaders can disappoint on a grand scale. But protests such as those now planned for Egypt signal a deeper loss of support.

What now? Mr Morsi will probably stumble through the next year. Again and again over the past year, as the country has lurched from crisis to crisis, it looked as if the amorphous opposition might bring enough people into the streets to trigger some reaction, perhaps from the army. And time and again that has not happened.

There has however been one change, a rather positive one: the various strands of the opposition have made common cause with one another, seeing in Mr Morsi a common enemy.

As the president shows more and more contempt for ordinary Egyptians, so the opposition are preparing. The next time Mr Morsi, or another Muslim Brotherhood candidate, faces a popular vote - his official term has three more years to run - he will find a far more disciplined opposition - and may soon after find himself in their role.

 

falyafai@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai