North Africa, West Asia

Morsi is not a symbol

Maged Mandour

A reply to Islam Abdel-Rahman on whether deposed President Mohamed Morsi is a symbol.

Maged Mandour
17 December 2013

Islam Abdel-Rahman, in a recent article on openDemocracy, argued that President Morsi’s appeal has transected his core constituency, and that he has become a unifying figure for the anti-coup movement. He also argues that the coup is a counter revolutionary event, which returned the military to the Egyptian political scene “after the revolution”, and implicitly of course President Morsi could have removed the military from power. The tone of the article also implies that during presidential elections, Morsi represented revolutionary forces in opposition to the candidate of the “deep state”, and that his success was equivalent to a revolutionary victory. The views expressed in this article are not simply a distortion of the past and present, but also an exercise in selective memory “par excellence”, which suggests that Brotherhood supporters are still not ready to take the necessary steps to redeem that organisation; the first of which should be an honest acknowledgment of its failures and shortcomings, transcending propaganda and political pragmatism.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the role of the Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt, one needs to understand the role of the Brotherhood under Mubarak and Sadat. The Brotherhood as a mass, conservative, backward looking movement, with a backbone in the rural bourgeoisie, has historically acted as a bulwark against more progressive, national forces. The Brotherhood has maintained this role since its inception in Ismailia in 1928, until the ouster of Morsi by the Egyptian military. One only needs to remember the role of the Brotherhood in supporting the King against the representative of the Egyptian El-Wafd Party’s nationalist movement in pre-1952 Egypt. Add to this, their support of Sadat against the leftist and Nasserist forces of the 1970s and their attempts to defame the January uprising of 1977 by labelling it as a communist conspiracy. Finally comes their support for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) during the first transitional period; crowding out popular protest against the military by holding counter rallies and providing political cover to the numerous massacres conducted by the military through their control of the people’s assembly.

In short, based on their history one can convincingly argue that they themselves are an anti-revolutionary, conservative, status quo force that has always worked within the confines of political systems. One only needs to remember the famous interview given by Morsi during the final years of the Mubarak regime, when he publicly stated that there was electoral coordination between the Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party (NDP), and that the Brotherhood had cleared some “areas” for certain members of the NDP, since they considered them to be “national symbols”.

This is not to argue that the Brotherhood was not subjected to bouts of state repression; the clearest example was the fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2010. However, this repression was based on the needs of the regime, and was used to discipline the Brotherhood when needed. The Brotherhood had a symbiotic relationship with the military-dominated regime, whereby it acted as its arm in civil society, allowing the state to withdraw and retrench after the volcano of 1967, as I have argued elsewhere.

This context is necessary for the rebuttal of some points raised by Abdel-Rahman in his article. The article gives the impression that by the time the presidential elections were under way the military was all but sidelined from the Egyptian political scene and that the main powers were “civilian”; insinuating that Morsi’s electoral victory was a death blow to the military. Paradoxically, he also states that Morsi only just beat the “deep state” candidate, which also implies that the “deep state” was still an active participant in Egyptian political life. This view is a simple and superficial view to say the least. It ignores the wider societal context in which these elections took place. Namely, it ignores the failure of revolutionary forces to change existing societal power relations within the Egyptian polity, especially in the realm of political economy and civil society.

In the realm of political economy, the military’s economic empire remained un-assailed, even the most radical revolutionaries failing to create the necessary awareness of this empire and its impact on Egyptian societal development, thus failing to threaten or dismantle it. In the realm of civil society, the power base of the Brotherhood, the revolutionary forces failed to create revolutionary consciousness as a necessary first step for commencing a direct assault on the state and the political system. This failure can be partially attributed to the anti-revolutionary role of the Brotherhood, as they sided with the military against progressive forces, ensuring that the ideological base of the regime remained intact. In short, when presidential elections took place, the military remained the dominant force in the country, which would automatically limit the power of a new president, whoever he might be.

Abdel-Rahman, also repeats a false assumption common among members of the Brotherhood, confusing elections with democracy. Abdel-Rahman gives the impression that Morsi’s electoral victory was a victory for democracy, ignoring the fact that elections are only one prerequisite for democracy. Elections, even if they are free, do not necessarily guarantee a democratic state. Democracy involves the elimination of independent power centres that are outside the control of the state, which was not the case, as argued above, and the existence of truly democratic institutions and legal framework, including but not limited to a constitution, which was not ready at the time. Once again the argument that the Egyptian revolution created a real opening in the Egyptian political system remains suspect. The prerequisites of a democratic election did not exist.

To drive the point home, one needs to look at Morsi`s policies during his year in office. The main issue was that the Brotherhood behaved eerily similarly to the NDP in terms of economic policies, for example. The Brotherhood seemed to press forward with neoliberal practices that were adopted by the NDP. The clearest example was the Brotherhood`s attempts to obtain  a loan from the IMF. The Brotherhood also attempted to replicate the repressive tactics of the NDP and it failed to do so, not due to lack of will, rather due to lack of cooperation from security institutions. Finally, and most importantly, the Brotherhood’s rushed constitution that preserved the status of the military as an independent power centre clearly showed whose side they were on. The Brotherhood remained true to its history while in power; they remained an anti-revolutionary force attempting to reach an accord with the military as they slowly attempted to  consolidate their power base within the state apparatus.

In short, the notion that Morsi and the Brotherhood were part, let alone symbols, of the revolutionary movement is a blatant attempt to rewrite history and ignore their own history and the choices they made. Conversely, one could make quite a case for believing that the Brotherhood and Morsi were part of the counter-revolution that started once Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011.

As for the claim that after the coup, Morsi`s appeal transcended his core base of Muslim Brotherhood supporters - this is dubious at best. The popularity of the military remains solid for the time being, although it might start to disintegrate as repression increases. Other political forces, opposed to the military, have gone to considerable lengths to distance themselves from the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood failed to garner the support of the urban middle classes, concentrated in Cairo, which severely hindered its ability to effectively oppose the military. It relied historically on numerical superiority in the peripheries, ignoring the centre, a strategy that has proved to be a fatal error. Some might even argue, that the split between the Al-Nour Salafist party, who are now attempting to crowd out the Brotherhood, and the MB has further weakened the Islamist movement and the ability of the Brotherhood to appeal to wider Islamist audiences. Morsi was and is a leader within the confines of the Brotherhood, but he has no wider appeal. The Brotherhood’s failure has severely damaged the revolution and consolidated the position of the military. Morsi is not Mandela and the MB is not the ANC.       

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