Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

Mohammed Morsi: an elected leader who could not govern for all

Academic turned leader put Muslim Brotherhood's desires ahead of his people's needs

The late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi  in Cairo, 08 July 2012. EPA
The late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi  in Cairo, 08 July 2012. EPA

The rise of Mohammed Morsi to the presidency of the most populous Arab nation marked a new chapter, rather than the end of changes rocking Egypt after the uprising of 2011.

As a man beholden to his Muslim Brotherhood roots and unable to compromise or govern, his tenure and eventual downfall left deep marks on the country.

Morsi was never meant to be leader. He stepped in as the now-outlawed Brotherhood’s candidate in the 2012 election after Khairat El Shater, the deputy supreme guide of the group, was disqualified for his criminal record.

Morsi won with 51.73 per cent of the vote, although less than half the electorate turned out.

But the aspirations of millions seeking a government that could lead the country’s transition quickly faded as inefficiency and ineptitude left public services in a shambles and the economy on the verge of collapse.

Many hoped Morsi, an engineering PhD holder with no military background and the first civilian leader since the 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy, would bring a new form of accountable government.

But as a high-ranking member of the Brotherhood, Morsi remained beholden to his bosses in the organisation.

He never appeared to be a man fully in charge and did not manage to balance the needs of the people, the demands of those higher up in the Brotherhood’s hierarchy and the concerns of the military.

The Egyptian army was instrumental in the final departure of Hosni Mubarak during 2011 protests.

But its leadership was also deeply concerned by the Brotherhood’s attempt to hijack the changes to further the aims for which they had pushed for decades – an Islamist state.

Instead of reaching out to secular groups, the army command and people across the nation, Morsi retreated.

His monkish, academic approach to the economic crisis, growing discontent and continuing instability left him looking cut off from society.

On the streets, the services needed to keep the country of 97 million moving seemed to grind to a halt.

Trains ran slow if at all, power cuts were common, rubbish collection became infrequent and bureaucracy seemed to sprawl.

Some began to question whether the movement to remove Mubarak had really been the right call.

Then in a now notorious November 2012 declaration, Morsi used presidential authority to grant himself sweeping powers in the name of “protecting the revolution”.

The move prevented legal challenges and granted him the ability to act without parliamentary oversight.

Many were outraged. Liberal and secular groups walked out of the session of the constitutional assembly where he gave the speech, fearing the president would impose a strict religious rule.

With protests and anger rising, the army moved with much popular support in the summer of 2013. Morsi was removed from power, arrested and the search for a new leader began.

He left behind a country in dire economic circumstances and a troubling insurgency carrying out attacks across the country on minorities, security forces and ordinary citizens.

Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who served as head of the army under Morsi, ran in the election and won in 2014.

His support from the army and his appeal to politicians who back him for bringing stability has enabled Mr El Sisi to undertake huge reforms.

He has dismissed criticism by human rights groups for the push to remove all vestiges of Morsi’s rule and detained thousands of Brotherhood supporters, insisting that jobs, homes and making sure all Egyptians can live in safety are just as important.

The military’s offensive, focused in the Sinai Peninsula, has tackled but not ended the insurgency and the economy has shown signs of returning to a balance.

But Mr El Sisi still has a long way to go and the lasting mark of Morsi’s legacy lingers.

Updated: June 18, 2019 08:27 AM

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