Myopic Morsi and oblivious Obama: counting the costs of autocracy

President Morsi’s ill-advised and badly executed attempts to concentrate power in his hands will exact high moral, economic and psychological costs while the US administration looks on, says Hania Sholkamy.

Hania Sholkamy
27 November 2012

President Morsi has embarked on a course of action that has divided the institutions of the country and fed hatreds and mutual suspicions. This course of action is one that will entrench his power and empower his followers but will also  sink the country into bitterness, hatreds, frustrations and anxieties. He has structured a lose-lose situation.

On the 27th of November mass demonstrations to protest the constitutional amendment will take place in Cairo and in other cities.  The  amendment is now a very dangerously divisive tool in the hands of the ruling elite.  Regimes supporters and their opponents, are fighting over the capture of the  moral high ground. The president claims  that the constitutional declaration is good for the country.  His opponents hear in its articles a death knell for democracy and for hope in Egypt. Each side is wholly and completely intolerant of the other. Media, cyber and public spaces are awash with a toxic mix of intolerance and near -incoherent spite.

Hopefully the death toll from Egypt’s struggles for freedom will not rise further but that is an unrealistic hope. Youth are already falling at the barricades around Tahrir Square as they face off with the police. Meanwhile gangs of Muslim Brothers and of non-Islamist youth are hurling stones and wielding truncheons in several Egyptian cities. On the 25th of November a boy of 16 died after being hit by a stone in one of the Delta cities. The Muslim Brothers claimed him as a follower, but his own brother subsequently blamed the Muslim Brotherhood   and their youth gangs for his death. Meanwhile and almost at the same time the heart of Jeeka, a 17 year old member of the 6th of April youth movement who had been shot in the head and seriously injured while opposing security forces off Tahrir square last week, stopped beating. Both boys were buried on November 26th.

 The president’s ill-advised and badly executed attempt to bring order to the country and concentrate power in his own hands has not only created deep fractures and wide chasms within institutions such as the syndicates and amongst judges, public prosecutors and people at large; it has also struck a serious blow to the economy as the Egyptian stock exchange lost 30 billion EGP and saw its major index drop by 10% before the exchange was closed down. One also doubts that tourists will come flocking to see our sights, or that serious long term investors will shower us with their money. Indeed Egyptians who have any savings are desperate to take them out of this unpredictable country. Whereas previously it was unemployed youth who used to leave in search of better prospects, it is now the people with jobs who are contemplating departure to search for a better life elsewhere.

So why does president Morsi not see beyond his probable short-term victory? How can a president throw away his own hard-won legitimacy gained at the ballot boxes of the presidential elections - with a narrow margin of 1.5% over his opponent who was a symbol of the Mubarak regime and had been expected to get few votes?

In his own defence, the president talked of coups and conspiracies. He said that his spies had information that five people had conspired against him in a dark alley ( his own words ). He had to usurp the power of the Judiciary, protect all his own decisions against any form of appeal or contestations, and to protect the already defunct constitutional committee against dissolution - all for the good of Egypt. His numerous and disciplined followers fully believe him.

But no one outside his circle of  supporter buys this story.  Islamist activists on line, on the streets, in cafés and TV have decided that force and coercion are now the weapons of the strong. And they have used stones and strong words to damn the ‘un-believers’. Those who disagree with the president are dismissed as lackeys of the West, as traitors, as apostates, as insignificants, and as enemies of the good hard working people.

But what will happen to the millions who oppose the dictates of the president? This large minority will continue to exist since it is hard to imagine they will all end up in exile or be exterminated, but the president and his entourage have no notion of how to deal with them or how to govern without coercion..

The situation in Egypt has not only cast light on our own president’s myopia, but also on the oblivion of Obama and of the U.S. administration who have supported this regime. President Morsi succeeded in getting Hamas to agree to a ceasefire with Israel and has proved that he can be a reliable  American ally. Could  this be why the Obama administration has forgotten all about their professed democratic values? A word of condemnation would have had a sobering effect on the Egyptian regime. However, the United States is capable of overlooking grave abuses of power in the name of its own security and interests, and can forgive its allies for transgressions as long as these violations are committed against their allies’ own people. Egyptians do not need or want any external/foreign intervention in their affairs. But the contradictions that riddle US positions in the Arab world are worth noting .

This week people all over the world are addressing the prevalence of a disease called violence against women. Women who have died are  remembered and women who are suffering are being heard.  Once abused, a woman may have to go on tolerating the perpetrator of abuse, but she will never reward him with love or support. Our president and his ardent supporters should avoid acting like tormentors who think they can be forgiven for slapping around the values and rights of those currently weaker than they are.  The abusive party may win the fight but he will have lost the relationship. The president may crush his opponents, but he has lost the hope of being a leader.


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