The Fall of the Muslim Brotherhood
By Nayyer Ali MD
One year after being freely elected Egypt’s President, Muhammad Morsi was deposed in a military coup and Egypt plunged further into chaos and uncertainty. Morsi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and his election was a triumph for political Islam in the wake of the Arab Spring. His rapid fall is a troubling next step in the democratic evolution of Egypt and the Arab world.
The military did not act on its own. It had the massive support of the Egyptian people, and in fact was reacting to the giant demonstrations of June 30, which some observers claimed ran into the millions throughout Egypt. Prior to that was a Facebook-based petition drive calling for Morsi to step down that claimed 23 million signatures. What made Morsi’s removal possible was the collapse in the popular support for his government.
Morsi was weakened by a series of disastrous policy choices over the last year. It began with the fact that Morsi was not really his own man, he was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, in fact its second choice as the primary candidate was disqualified for having a criminal conviction from the Mubarak era. Morsi was not able to do as he saw fit, he was ultimately under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood and its General Guide. The political party he heads, the Freedom and Justice Party, is just a shell run by the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood and Morsi totally misread the victory in the Presidential election last year. The vote had two phases: in the initial phase there were many candidates and none won a majority, but the top two went on to a runoff. Those two were Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a retired Air Force General and the obvious candidate of the old Mubarak system. This gave the people of Egypt an awful choice, either vote a crony of Mubarak back into power, which meant the whole Arab Spring was really pointless, or vote for Morsi and give power to the Muslim Brotherhood. In a very tight contest Morsi got 51% of the votes. But both he and the Brotherhood took this to mean that Egypt really wanted them to rule, and that democracy meant merely that the winner of the election gets to be dictator.
It didn’t take long for Morsi to engage in a heavy-handed power grab. He stated that his edicts could not be subject to judicial review, stripping the courts of their power. He then rammed through a constitution in December that was not an inclusive document that reflected all strains of Egypt, but was narrowly tailored to Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist concerns. This was a huge error on his part and inflamed the fears of liberals, youth, and Christians. By late spring, Egypt was turning sharply against Morsi.
The terrible state of the economy amplified that and drained Morsi of support as Egyptians could see that his policies were driving away tourists. His decision last month to appoint as governor of Luxor a member of the Salafi party who was associated with the organization that massacred tourists at Luxor in the 1990’s was a typical misstep. Instead of focusing on improving the lives of average Egyptians and getting the economy back on its feet, Morsi worked tirelessly to consolidate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood over Egypt.
The Brotherhood claims that Morsi was not given a fair chance, that the old regime insiders still were working to destroy any chance of success for the new government. There is some truth to that, but the wound was mostly self-inflicted. If Morsi had left religion out of it, had focused on improving Egypt, and had worked to build bridges and coalitions with liberals and Christians, he would still be President. The Egyptians that overthrew Mubarak in 2011 were not Muslim Brotherhood, they were young, urban, and a new generation. They saw Morsi stealing their accomplishment.
Where does Egypt go from here? A military coup is not the way to build democracy. The Egyptian military was fine with the Brotherhood in power as long as it did not challenge the military’s highly privileged position in the society. The average draftee has a tough existence, but for the officer class, it is life full of perks and benefits. The military in Egypt is like the military in Turkey or Pakistan. For a civilian government to effectively bring it under control, it will need to follow the Turkish model. First, the civilians must run the country effectively, make the nation prosper, and then the army will have to accept what the government decides.
It looks like Egypt will do several things. There is going to be an interim civilian government followed by fresh elections for President and Parliament. There will also be a committee that will draft amendments to the constitution, presumably these will be voted on in a referendum.
Will Egypt get through these rough waters? I think so. Hopefully the Muslim Brotherhood will realize they overplayed their hand. There has been significant shooting of protestors by the army, but I doubt the Brotherhood will go into full-blown armed opposition. That will destroy the Brotherhood with the rest of Egyptians. If some degree of calm can be established, hopefully fresh elections will reestablish democracy. For the liberals and the young, they must organize effectively so they can win elections, not just hold demonstrations.