People are empowered by their lack of power. Malcolm Gladwell

The Road to Collapse

Following Morsi’s ouster, Egypt is once again on a knife-edge. While it is yet unforeseeable how the country can overcome the current state of crisis, it is quite clear how it got itself into it in the first place.

Whether you call it a military coup or an ongoing revolution, it is hard to ignore the basic fact that the end of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt is a defining moment in the country’s history.

Three years ago, no sane person inside or outside Egypt would have ever imagined that millions of Egyptians would take to the streets to demand the ouster of the Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohammed Morsi. The huge support they managed to attract among Egyptians three years ago was too stable to expect such a dramatic collapse.

In November 2011, 27 millions voted for the Brotherhood in the country’s first democratically elected parliament. The Brotherhood promised millions of Egyptians, to deal, among others, with the issues of poverty, energy shortage, and security. But soon Egyptians realized that the Brotherhood is unwilling and unable to fulfill its promises because it basically only controls the legislative branch, while these promises need to be addressed through government channels.

Gone with the Wind

For four months, the parliament did not pass any law to reform state institutions, except a law for the political exclusion of Mubarak-era remnants. A step taken only after Mubarak’s former vice president Omar Suleiman decided to run for the presidency. The Brotherhood considered him a dangerous threat to their presidential candidate. The law, which was passed within two days, was later deemed unconstitutional before the parliament itself was eventually dissolved because of major legal loopholes.

After promises were made to political and revolutionary forces to correct the mistakes of the past, including the formation of a coalition government, achieving real transitional justice, and fixing the process of drafting the constitution that was completely dominated by the Brotherhood, Morsi hardly managed to defeat Ahmed Shafik in the last election with 13 million votes.
But once Morsi assumed power, the promises were soon gone with the wind. A government was formed without consensus from other political forces, mainly consisting of officials and technocrats belonging to the former ruling party of Mubarak. Over the last year, numerous government reshuffles took place in which nine ministers belonging to the ruling party were appointed key ministries.

The process of drafting the constitution evoked a serious deadlock as Brotherhood and Salafist figures controlled the constitutional panel. The process therefore lacked the consent of many social groups of the Egyptian society and showed no clear separation between authorities; no protection or rights safeguarding minorities like women and religious groups; no guarantees for civic or socioeconomic rights; but instead a strong rule of the military that lacks any civilian control over its activities.

Most of the secular groups, labor syndicates and even church representatives, quit the panel, leaving the floor for Islamists to tighten their control over the constitution.
Since some critical legal loopholes could have been used to suspend the Constituent Assembly, Morsi decided to issue a constitutional declaration, granting all his decisions immunity from judicial appeals.

One of his decisions was to give legal immunity to the Constituent Panel in the most serious dispute with the opposition, thereby enabling the Panel to finish up the drafting process overnight. He also sacked a top prosecutor from the Mubarak era and appointed a Brotherhood-affiliated one instead.

His decisions also included giving full legislative authority to the Brotherhood-controlled Shura Council (upper house of parliament whose role is predominantly consultative – only 7% of Egyptians elected it), which worked on drafting laws that would further consolidate the Brotherhood’s power. Draft laws to organize NGO work, rights of protest, Islamic bonds, and the development of the Suez Canal, were all deemed undemocratic and a threat to civil rights.

Morsi’s decision once again sparked mass protests, demanding to cancel a planned referendum on the controversial draft constitution. But Morsi turned a blind eye to the protests and sent his supporters to violently disperse a peaceful opposition protest in front of the presidential palace, leading to a fierce battle that left 10 dead and hundreds injured.

Following this strong social conflict, the constitution was eventually passed with a weak turnout as low as 30%. Over the last six months, protest ignited on several occasions, leading to violent clashes between police and opposition protesters or Brotherhood protesters and opposition supporters.

An inevitable Coup

Morsi’s government increasingly failed to address the basic needs of the Egyptian society, including ongoing power outages, severe fuel crises and critical economic turmoil. Most of the time, Morsi blamed Mubarak’s former regime (he accused them of plotting against him) and failed to show any signs of accountability, improvement or planning for the future.

It was in the light of these developments and tendencies that the rebellion campaign “Tamarod” decided to take action against Morsi by organizing petitions to withdraw confidence from the Egyptian leader. The campaign gained huge popularity and claimed to have collected over 22 million signatures.

Subsequently the Brotherhood’s Mubarak-like discourse escalated. They demonized all the signatories and labeled them infidels, seculars, Copts, or former regime politicians, aiming to overthrow the Islamic project. Incitement of Egypt’s sectarian basis became evident in the Islamist media, leading to the protests on June 30; the day the “Tamarod” campaign called for mass protests to oppose the regime that had been formed precisely a year ago.

A military coup thus seemed to become inevitable. The political deadlock in Egypt left no chance for a democratic ouster of Morsi. Although the prospect of a military coup wasn’t very popular among the protesters, Morsi’s continuation in power for the rest of his term would have meant a complete undemocratic takeover of the largest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood – a state of affairs that would have definitely lead to a civil war at some point.

Now, after Morsi’s ouster, violence is once again escalating between supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood. The future will determine the fate of the world’s largest Islamic group and the country it tried to control.

Read more in this debate: Ragnar Weilandt, Abdullah Al-Arian, Joseph Hammond.

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