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News Analysis

Huge Egyptian Protests Against Muslim Brotherhood Rule

Thu, January 31, 2013

by: 
Dr. Tawfik Hamid

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is facing new challenges to his leadership  after several days of widespread violent protests and rioting in most major cities of the country. Several dozen people have been killed already in the unrest.

The riots have been described in the media as "soccer riots" an unfortunate comparison, as it is decidedly not a problem of hooliganism, but rather reflects a very serious popular mistrust of the Egyptian legal system, which was compromised and politicized when President Morsi unceremoniously removed the attorney general and illegally appointed one of his loyalists to the position.

Morsi also set a dangerous precedent when he permitted Islamist thugs to kill innocent demonstrators in front of his palace, to surround the Supreme Constitutional Court and threaten its judges to prevent them from ruling against him, and to bully the liberal media by surrounding their main media broadcasting place. None of these crimes were even criticized by Morsi, let alone punished. Young revolutionists now reasonably feel that respect for the Law and peaceful behavior are pointless while the president and his thugs are breaking it and using violence.

Anger against Morsi has been steadily building over the last several months. Morsi's failure to keep his promises -- especially the economic ones, his ignoring the secular opposition who won approximately 60% of the votes in the first presidential race, his broken promise to include the opposition in the framing of the constitution before putting it to a referendum (in fact, he not only broke that promise, but then allowed the MB and its supporters to rig the results of the referendum), and a general feeling of complete lack of direction for the country -- are among the factors that have created widespread anger against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in different sectors of the society.

To make matters worse, the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to clearly state their intentions to the Egyptian people: Do they envision an Egypt on the model of Turkey, or would they prefer something akin to the Sudan, Iran or the Taliban? This psychological uncertainty has created a feeling of anxiety, like might be felt by a passenger in a car with an unknown driver who steadily refuses to tell him where his is going. It is all rather unsettling.

Additionally, the fact that several leading members of the MB have spoken out against beach tourism has contributed to the loss of billions of tourism dollars and worsened the already deteriorating economy. The collapse of the tourism industry has caused millions of people to suffer.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that Morsi did not rise to power on a wave of popular support, but rather as a consequence of a deeply divided opposition. This led to a bizarre situation in which Morsi managed to assume power while only 25% of the population gave him their votes in the first presidential race.

Had the secular opposition united from the beginning, Morsi would never have attained the presidency. Instead, the anti-Morsi secular majority (Shafik-24%, Amr Mussa-12%, Sabahi-22 %) are excluded from the constitution of the country and have no say in its current leadership. The decline of the image of Morsi in particular and the Islamists in general since they came to power has made it more difficult for Morsi to rule the country.

The following illustrates how Morsi is significantly and rapidly losing his power. After the recent widespread revolt, Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in three major Egyptian cities. The curfew was supposed to go into effect at 9 pm that evening. The populations of these cities decided that rather than obediently retire to bed at 9 pm, they would instead stage huge demonstrations.

In fact, in Ismaelia (one of the three cities) the people decided to play a game of soccer in front of the main government building of the city to prove to Morsi that he cannot control them. And military officers and soldiers participated in this illicit soccer game as well, further illustrating Morsi's declining popularity.

The situation is both very serious and complex. Powers on the ground include the  military, the Islamists, the secularists, young revolutionists, and recently, thugs who try to utilize the chaos for their benefit. Most of the factions are against most of the other ones. The military and other security forces risk losing their power and ability to rule if they continue supporting Morsi.

In fact, several of the young military officers, police officers and soldiers are showing unity with the population as it revolts against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government.

The United States needs to revise its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi simply cannot deliver the stability the U.S. expected from him as the vast majority of the Egyptians, including many leading Salafists, are now against him. Additionally, his behavior on several occasions has clearly shown his sympathy for the jihadists and for Hamas’ agenda to destroy Israel, and his rather pathological levels of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

Furthermore, he has blood on his hands not unlike Mubarak after Jan 25, 2011, so supporting him will only further damage U.S. credibility among most Egyptians. In other words, in the short run, he cannot bring stability; at an intermediate level, he has failed to respect the basic rules of  democracy; and in the long run, his Islamist agenda poses a serious threat to U.S. interests. His recent objection to Western intervention in Mali to fight his fellow Islamic radicals proves the point.

Wrong decisions are not an option in this explosive situation. As General Al-Sissi (the head of the Egyptian Military) described it: "It can end in failure of the state."

Some of the suggested vital steps that are urgently needed to try to stabilize the country include the following:

The Egyptian military must intervene in the situation. This intervention must be  carefully thought out, because a simple coup, while it would likely have the support of most Egyptians, would certainly produce a violent backlash from Islamic groups. One approach that might help solve this complex problem is for the military to pressure Morsi into accepting the other four presidential candidates (who won a combined 75%  of the votes in the first presidential race) to share with him in a steering committee to rule the country for the next one to three months until another presidential race is held.

This would allow a now better-informed Egyptian people an opportunity to decide who they really want as their president in this critical time. This next election must be monitored by internationally recognized organizations so that the current Islamist government cannot control it by fraud. Election fraud was a major contributing factor to the revolt against Morsi and the MB.

Morsi must be pressured with the fact that he legally lost his legitimacy the moment he broke his oath to respect the law and the constitution of the country by issuing an unconstitutional declaration that allowed him to retain all powers in his own hands. While this solution may still result in some violent reaction from some Islamists, it will be small compared to the disasters that will happen if Morsi continues in the same way.

Each candidate in this committee could have a proportionate power, represented by his percentage of support in the first presidential election (Shafik-24%, Amr Mussa-12 %, Sabahi-22 %, and  Abu El-fotoh-16%). Such a committee would be welcomed by most Egyptians as they will feel that they are properly represented according to the actual numbers and percentages in the first presidential race. This committee must embark on creating a new constitution that represents all of the population -- not just the Islamists, whose popularity has been steadily declining since they came to power.

Further delay in taking correct decisions can only result in more instability in this sensitive area of the world.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Hamid recognized the threat of radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is currently a Senior Fellow and Chair of the study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.