Millennium Post

Revolution reset: Egypt’s experiment with democracy comes to a halt

Whether it was tragedy or comedy, placards reading ‘Egypt and Morsi don’t mix’ got the biggest laugh on Tahrir Square. The armed forces overthrew President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday, declaring that he had ‘failed’ the Egyptian people. A poor farm boy from the Nile Delta, made good through an American education and pious loyalty to the underground Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi was shoved blinking from obscurity a year ago to become Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Taking on a role that the Brotherhood had feared might be a trap sprung by a hostile bureaucracy inherited from the old regime, Morsi’s personal ratings were sapped by an economy in free fall and one clumsy policy move after another.

He was fatally undermined by his failure to shake a conviction among the talkative urban elites that he was the clownish pawn of a secret society of religious zealots.
When, in January, he ventured a few words in English during a visit to Germany, he presented himself as a perfect fall-guy for a new breed of political comic wowing television audiences with the freedoms won in the revolution on Tahrir two years ago.

‘Gas and alcohol don’t mix,’ the teetotal Muslim engineer told a bemused Berlin audience, his English stilted and tapping the table for emphasis to make a point about road safety. The clip, as mocked by a satirist on prime-time TV, went viral on social media among Egypt’s anglophone liberal elite. When the show’s host Bassem Youssef, who revels in being ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart’, was hauled in for questioning for insulting the president, the joke just grew. When someone first wrote ‘Egypt and Morsi don’t mix!’ on a placard, the slogan took off; soon millions were in the streets and a beleaguered Morsi was left fuming in rambling speeches about the personal iniquities heaped on him by the media.

Samer Shehata, an expert on Islamist Arab politics at Oklahoma University, summed up the dilemma Morsi’s fate has exposed in Egypt, where liberals are celebrating the military toppling a democratically elected leader: ‘Its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats,’ Shehata wrote in the New York Times.

Morsi and his allies in the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council - Egypt’s liberals called them his puppeteers - also made mistakes: ‘He has been a disastrous leader,’ Shehata said. ‘Divisive, incompetent, heavy-handed and deaf to wide segments of Egyptian society who do not share his Islamist vision.’ Broken promises on the economy in particular, where people have suffered shrinking real incomes and lengthening lines for fuel, widened the appeal of a protest movement rooted in a liberal opposition that repeatedly lost elections to Islamists.

‘Morsi has alienated the other forces, he didn’t handle the economy well and he made many enemies - in the courts, in the army, the police, the media,’ said Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at Washington’s Middle East Institute currently in Cairo. Highlighting the ‘media warfare’, he added: ‘He was fighting on many fronts at the same time and that is always a very bad political tactic. He united the opposition against him.’

As hopes for consensus faded, Morsi ploughed on regardless, casting his opponents as bad losers. His allies, meanwhile, were whittled down to Islamists at the extreme religious right.
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