North Africa, West Asia

Questions of legitimacy

The people of Egypt need to accept that they have to forge their own path to democracy, which at this point in history will most likely come at a bloody price.  

Mohanad El Sangary
24 July 2017
Matthias Tödt/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

A poster at a demonstration against Egyptian President Mursi reads 'The Muslim Brotherhood are criminals, they stole the revolution, they destroyed the state, they traded us in, all in the name of religion' at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, 28 June 2013. Matthias Tödt/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.The first democratically elected president in Egyptian history, Mohamed Morsi, gives a televised speech on 2 July 2013. The country is buzzing with unrest. Hundreds of thousands are demonstrating against the president, some estimates suggest millions.

The president is visibly nervous. The military gave him an ultimatum. Although some members of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which the president is a member, were in denial, the message from the military is clear: step down or we will force you to.

The unhinged and soon to be ex-president is defiant in his frantic speech. His stance was reminiscent of a deposed Tsar on the brink of madness as he called for his supporters to rally and defend him, even if it were to rip the country apart. Morsi refers to himself as the only legitimate ruler, repeating the word legitimacy 56 times throughout his entire speech.

It becomes apparent that demonstrators’ calls for an early presidential election will not be heeded. The only way for him to step down is through force, something the military was more than happy to ensure.

Following Morsi’s speech, crowds of activists in the Borsah coffeehouse area of downtown Cairo unite in chanting one invocative phrase, kos ummak – a disrespectful insult directed at Morsi.

The current government has now shut down all these coffeehouses.

To this day, the imprisoned ex-president and his supporters claim that he is the legitimate president of Egypt; a claim that is wholeheartedly rejected by the current regime who brand them as traitors, terrorists and conspirators.

But are anyone’s claims to legitimacy true? I am not going into detail about the current regime’s legitimacy claims; a regime that took power through the massacre of over 1,150 Morsi supporters in what Human Rights Watch dubbed “one of the world’s largest killing of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.”

This is a regime that carried out tens of thousands of arrests, forced disappearances and even point-blank executions against any voice of dissent, under the cover of a pseudo war on terror that only serves to fan the flames of terrorism.

This is a regime that targets any person or party that poses a threat to their grip on power, be it Islamists, leftists, revolutionaries or otherwise.

Many regimes look good by comparison, but should Egyptians be forced to compare?

It is without doubt that part of the public’s anger towards the Morsi regime was sparked through a conspiracy orchestrated by the people that overthrew him. The Tamarod movement called for Morsi to be deposed and allegedly collected 22 million signatures; it turned out that they were backed by the military and powerful old regime figures.

There is no doubt, however, that the public’s outrage was not a product of this conspiracy alone. The Muslim Brotherhood was desperate for power, and they went back on their word every single time they were presented with an opportunity.

After the revolution, they had claimed that they would only run for 30 percent of the seats in parliament. However, when the time came, they ran for all available seats.

They promised they would not run for the presidential elections, and forced one of their ranking members (Abou El Fotouh) to resign, cutting ties with him because he had announced that he was going to run for presidency. But then, they reneged on their promise and nominated a primary candidate as well as a backup, who happened to be Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi became the first democratically elected president in Egyptian history. He won by a very thin margin - a little over half of the vote - in the run-off presidential elections. With the consolidation of most of the Islamist and revolutionary votes, 13 million people voted against Morsi and for the candidate of the old regime, Ahmed Shafiq; a fact that the Muslim Brotherhood conveniently chose to ignore.

Talks of unity with all the revolutionary forces in the country, most of who only bitterly voted for the Islamists to prevent Mubarak’s regime from returning, quickly faded. The Brotherhood, which arguably sought power since its formation in 1928, called for talks with different factions but then completely ignored them, flaming rising sectarian tension and hate speech. The Islamists clearly felt emboldened by their newfound power.

In the meantime, the situation was not improving in the country. The media found an unprecedented level of freedom in the aftermath of the revolution and didn’t hold back in their criticism of Morsi’s regime. Some were valid independent voices and others were driven by the deep state, but most fell somewhere in between.

The Brotherhood was not happy and talked of censoring media outlets. Death threats were even put forth by some of the Islamists supporting Morsi. There was a sit-in and a blockade around Egypt’s media city to stop certain shows from airing.

Without any real reform, continuous praise and pay raises were made by Morsi to the same police force that hunted and persecuted his group for over 80 years. The regime thought they could utilize Mubarak’s oppressive arm to enforce their own brand of oppression. They were wrong.

One of the breaking points was the constitution that was passed under Morsi. After initial talks and the founding of a constitutional committee, non-Islamist members walked out when it became clear that some of the articles the Brotherhood insisted on passing aimed to create a backbone for theocracy. Little to no effort was made to reach a consensus, as later explained by Wael Ghonim, the well-known revolutionary figure. After losing their revolutionary allies, the Islamists were on their own.

Even with the constitution, Morsi chose to destroy the legal foundation for his power - his “legitimacy”. The president announced a constitutional declaration establishing himself as a dictator. He removed the general prosecutor from office - something the president does not have the power to do. He used Brotherhood militia against anti-regime demonstrators near the presidential palace, which resulted in bloody clashes after the police turned a deaf ear to his calls to disperse the demonstrations.

The president might have started off as a democratically elected ruler, but at this point, he no longer was.

No one can claim legitimacy in post 30 June 2013 Egypt. Both the current and previous regimes want Egyptians to believe in the binary: us versus them. Choosing between sets of totalitarianism and different brands of dictatorship: Morsi’s that veered away from democracy toward authoritarianism, and Sisi’s that was born or rather, resurrected, as a continuation of Mubarak’s regime.

There are no prepackaged democracy bundles or established players in the Egyptian political landscape that offer a path towards a legitimate democracy. The people need to accept that they have to forge it on their own, which at this point in Egyptian history will most likely come at a bloody price.  

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