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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Morsi… 100 days as Egyptian President and no signs of Islam

Mohammed Morsi spent his 100th day as president of Egypt in the United States of America at the United Nations General Assembly. Mohammed Morsi was sworn in as president of Egypt on Saturday 30th June 2012 with much pomp and fanfare.

His electoral victory was a unique moment in the recent history of Egypt. Mohammed Morsi was elected by the people, something none of his predecessors can claim. He is also the first civilian leader in the country’s recent history. His party the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) currently under the guise of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has been working for change for over eight decades and Mohammed Morsi took the  premier seat in arguably one of the most influential and powerful countries in the region if not the Muslim world.
Both Mohammed Morsi and the MB have now come face-to-face with the real-world challenges faced by any head of state. Millions took to the streets to oust Mubarak and many lost their lives in the process. After 100 days of ruling we are in a position to asses Morsi’s rule and judge if the people’s demands are being addressed.

Constitution

As Morsi and the MB took the reins of power, they inherited a situation where the powers of the president were not defined and the nation’s problematic constitution had not been rewritten. After 100 days in power much of the old system remains intact. Morsi and the MB have not presented any grand vision for the country. It had used slogans such as ‘Islam is the solution,’ which have now been dropped.  However what has been notably absent is where they plan to take the people and exactly how they plan to achieve progress in a nation where 2 years of unrest have brought society to its knees. All great powers and strong leaders historically had grand visions which they used to unify the people behind them and they made sure the nation bought in to and contributed towards their vision of the future.

Since the election victory the MB has gone to great lengths to demonstrate its moderation to the West. In its rush to placate so called “international opinion”, they abandoned all pretence to Islamic politics. In doing so, they may think they are being pragmatic, smart and politically savvy. When it comes to applying an Islamic political system they cite constitutional barriers and the need to keep minorities onside. When it comes to applying Islamic economics, they cite the need to avoid scaring international investors and tourists. When it comes to applying the Islamic foreign policy, they cite the need to show a moderate image.

Economy

The biggest challenge that Mosri faced was the economy. Today Egypt has an economy worth $168 billion, almost entirely driven by agriculture, media, petroleum exports and tourism. Its services industry constitutes 49% of the economy.

The problem with the Egyptian economy is the fact that an elite few control it. When elites control an economy, they use their power to create monopolies and block the entry of new people and firms. This is how Egypt worked for three decades under Hosni Mubarak. The government and military own vast swaths of the economy — by some estimates, as much as 40%. Even when they did “liberalise,” they privatised large parts of the economy right into the hands of Mubarak’s friends and those of his son Gamal. Big businessmen close to the regime, such as Ahmed Ezz (iron and steel), the Sawiris family (multimedia, beverages, and telecommunications), and Mohamed Nosseir (beverages and telecommunications) received not only protection from the state but also government contracts and large bank loans. Together, these big businessmen consolidated their stranglehold on the economy creating astronomical profits for regime insiders, but blocked opportunities for the vast majority of Egyptians to succeed in business. Meanwhile, the Mubarak family accumulated a vast fortune estimated as high as $70 billion.

Morsi’s strategy for solving this was to officially ask the IMF for a $4.9 billion loan. Egypt’s Prime Minister, Hesham Qandil described the 5 year loan to be paid back with 1.1% rate as a good deal for the country.
The Prime Minister appeared live on Egypt’s state television in a desperate bid to justify the loan by explaining its benefits to the people. However, he was unable to conceal the truth and in his subsequent statement, he contradicted himself and exposed one of the IMF’s stipulated conditions, which is to force Morsi’s government to cut spending which is bound to impact on the poor in Egypt who are currently heavily dependent on state support. He said, “It is an Egyptian programme that will work on cutting and spending and adopting certain other measures.”

Fearing backlash, Qandil intentionally chose not to elaborate on the other externally imposed measures. It is well known that such measures include: increases in taxes, price hikes on essential items, and further loans from other institutions. All of which will make the people suffer immensely and add to their misery. In fact the Financial Times confirmed these measures. On August 22 2012, the paper stated: “The IMF wants Egypt to outline plans to reduce its budget deficit by bolstering revenues and trimming the costly public sector, including fuel and food subsidies. Egypt must also secure financing from other lending institutions as part of the loan terms.”

Israel

Morsi made clear in his victory speech that he would honor all of Egypt’s international treaties. No sooner had he assumed power but it came to light that Morsi had sent a communiqué confirming Egypt’s commitment to peaceful ties with Israel. In the letter sent to Shimon Peres, President of Israel, Morsi said: “I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East Peace Process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including the Israeli people.” Despite vociferous denials by Morsi’s representatives, the letter has turned out to be genuine. The UK’s Guardian reported that Peres’s office said the president’s aides received the official communiqué on July 31st 2012 from the Egyptian ambassador to the Jewish state, both by registered mail and by fax from the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv. Furthermore, the paper stated that the fax number which appeared on the faxed letter was registered to the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv.

On the back of this in August 2012 the Morsi government decided to send the military to track and eliminate threats of militancy in Sinai. This was after accusing militants of killing 16 border patrol troops on a checkpoint in Sinai near the border with Israel. The killing of Egyptian troops was used as a basis to depose the head of intelligence, the head of military police and the governor of North Sinai. A week later the heads of the SCAF, Tantawi and Sami Annan were also retired.

The removal of these senior generals was not an independent affair. The US state department confirmed it knew about the changes within the military establishment before they happened as was reported by the Voice of America that a US spokeswoman said that: “Hilary Clinton knew of ongoing discussions about a new defence team and was told during talks with President Morsi in Cairo last month that the change would be made at an appropriate moment.” Commenting on the new appointed personnel for the defence ministry and army, the Wall Street Journal said that, “Egypt’s new top military officer is a known commodity in Washington.”

The Morsi government’s extremely heavy handed tactics in Sinai raised a number of questions. The tactics and heavy weaponry was completely disproportionate to the incident. It was reported by the Associated Press that “Egyptian troops, light tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters are pouring into the Sinai desert.” Based on the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel signed in 1979, Sinai is a demilitarised zone and Egypt is not allowed to bring in military forces and heavy weaponry.

Israel consented to the military build up this time. Previously, Israel had always been resistant to any additions of military hardware in Sinai. General Lieutenant Ahmed Ali of the Egyptian forces confirmed in a briefing that “there is co-ordination over the presence of the armed forces in the Sinai territories,” he continued: “I think that there is the understanding that the military operation in Sinai is in the interest of all.” An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, said there are ongoing communications between the two sides.

Conclusions

Morsi and the MB no longer speak of ‘Islam is the solution.’ Saad al-Husseini, a member of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party executive bureau said in an interview with Al-Arabiya, that tourism is very important for Egypt. He stressed that drinking and selling alcohol are forbidden in Islam. However, he then added, “Yet Islamic laws also prohibit spying on private places and this applies to beaches as well…I wish 50 million tourists would travel to Egypt even if they come nude.”

The idea that Islam has solutions for the problems in society have become a secondary matter to the practicalities of governing a country without clear policy objectives or any vision for the future. It seems that the FJP and Morsi are coming to similar conclusions regarding politics in Egypt as Mubarak had before them. Tourism, minorities and foreign influences have become the driving force behind many of the decisions. Where there appear to be clear contradictions with Islam, these are conveniently explained away. This is pragmatic politics at its worst and cannot bring success to any nation.

In the wider region Morsi presents no plans to change the status quo, but rather is maintaining what his predecessors constructed. The current reality is that the Islamic groups that languished in the torture cells of the likes of Mubarak touting ‘Islam is the solution,’ are now the guardians for the institutions and corrupt politics they previously derided.

Mohammad Morsi and the MB should remember when Mubarak protected Western interests rather than his peoples, the Ummah eventually rose up against him and when he didn’t relinquish his position the Ummah came onto the streets and challenged him, eventually leading to his demise. The MB have been promoting Islam as a solution for 90 years, but now in power do not seem to have an Islamic vision that they are trying to move towards. So far it’s the politics of “muddle through somehow.” This weak pragmatism is likely to lead to disaster. If the MB fail to deliver genuine leadership soon, they may end up with a similar fate to the fallen dictators of recent decades. (by; Adnan khan)


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