After years of struggle under the repressive regime of Mubarak, the Egyptian people have seemingly come under another totalitarian leadership after the spontaneous power grab of the democratically elected leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammed Mursi.
Leading the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, Muhammed Mursi became the presidential candidate after Khairat el-Shater was disqualified. Euphoric jubilation followed his election in June, despite the array of problem that he would face as president. The celebration of his presidency and the democratic era of Egypt continued after the successful negotiations led by Mursi to instill a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. Nevertheless, the jubilation was short-lived as the streets in Cairo have filled with thousands of protesters demanding Mursi revoke recent policies granting Mursi near autocratic powers. Reminiscent of the democratic groundswell that swept the country’s former leader from power nearly two years ago, Egyptians swarmed into Tahrir Square to demand that Mursi respect their wishes. Protesters have risen throughout the country against Mursi and his declaration last week that his presidential edicts are beyond the reach of judges, suggesting his rise to unquestionable power and authority. Mursi has promised the country and the top judges within that he will restrict his newly self-granted powers to sovereign matters. The edict from last week granted Mursi immunity for his presidential decisions in sovereign matters but not judicial power. So saying, Mursi’s edicts effectively neutralize the judiciary, which was the only branch of government in a position to balance Mursi, who holds not only executive but also legislative authority. Nevertheless, as protesters storm Muslim Brotherhood quarters in various cities, the public belief in Mursi’s power restraint is evident. The presidential decree triggered several days of street battles between Mursi opponents, supporters and police in major Egyptian cities, resulting in 370 injuries so far.
“Suddenly Mursi is issuing laws and becoming an absolute ruler, holding all powers in his hands. Our revolt against the decrees became a protest against the Brotherhood as well.” – Mona Sadek, Tahrir Square protester
The election Mursi sparked a new era in Egyptian history in which hopes arose for a democratic transition through which a new Egyptian infrastructure would arise on a prospering economy and a democratic society. So saying, the path towards the democratic era contained a plethora of hurdles for Mursi. Among these hurdles was and continues to be the numerous opposition groups opposing the monopoly on power that the Muslim Brotherhood holds. Another hurdle remains the strong military presence, embodied by the military council that existed as a transitional government after Mubarak. So saying, Egypt’s elections did not promise an easy road forward and many through Mursi would merely become a puppet leader for the military council. Nevertheless, the actions being taken by Mursi now have indicated the perseverance of the new guard towards the construction of a new era for Egypt. The election of a Muslim Brotherhood monopoly sparked animosity in Egypt among opposition groups, proliferating fears of a religious theocracy emerging in the hard-fought political freedom they had just won. Therefore, with the majority Muslim parliament in the midst of writing a new constitution, the minority groups of Egypt remain fearful of their country emerging as a religious dictatorship like Iran. These fears are represented in the judicial system, as the top judges are skeptical of Mursi’s vision of Egypt’s future and were intending to oppose many of the new government’s actions. For these reasons, domestic forces were turned against the Mursi government for its religious views and thus Mursi has taken an apparently dictatorial pathway at ensuring the democratic transition for Egypt. Mursi argues that he needs to sweep the judiciary of Mubarak’s old guard to ensure a new constitution and parliament. According to Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the edicts are necessary to defend the fragile Arab Spring revolution that led to the country’s free elections.
“We are the people who will keep you honest, right after you grabbed all of this power for yourself that has made you even more powerful than Mubarak, who we got rid of last year. So the people were here to say, ‘We might have elected you as president, but we did not elect a new dictator”. – Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian journalist
Mursi’s actions, construed as a step towards dictatorial power, has brought Egypt back to the brink of revolution as the country has come to a halt as protests and strikes paralyze the foundations of the nation. In addition to outbursts on the street, Egypt’s judges have reacted. All but 7 of Egypt’s 34 courts and 90% of its prosecutors went on strike in protest. The unrest raises new concerns about stability in Egypt, thus halting Egypt’s path forward and doing the opposite of what Mursi had hoped his actions would bring about. The fears of the people have spread to the Egyptian stock market, with volatile trade over the past few days, and the turmoil could derail government efforts to implement already unpopular economic policies such as the removal of petrol products. The turmoil is also causing the international community to yield in its advancement towards Egypt. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) board is to meet in a few weeks to consider a nearly $5 billion financing agreement for Egypt and its members will need to ensure that the economic outlook for the country has not changed and that the government is capable of successfully implementing its economic reform program. So saying, the domestic forces are shown to consider Mursi’s actions as those of dictatorial consolidation, but the intentions of Mursi are not those of a dictatorial nature. Mursi’s democratic ideals are seen in his mediation of the Israel and Hamas crisis. As the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, fears had arisen that Egypt would rescind on its 1979 peace treaty. The possible dissolution of the accord is an appeal shared by many Islamist figures who see the Israelites as a foreign imposition and an evil needing to be eradicated. Nevertheless, Mursi demonstrated his resolve for peace and stability by negotiating the cease-fire and aiding the Israeli nation. Thus, to suggest Mursi is intending to usurp power in an Islamist power grab opposes his mediation of the crisis, the installment of the democratic institutions in Egypt, as well as the drafting of a new constitution intended to secure a system of democratic checks and balances on aspects of authority and power in Egypt.
“I think it is a bit of an exaggeration, not because I know his intentions – but I think he cannot really become a new pharaoh and what we’ve witnessed over the past few days really testifies to that.” – Khalil, Egyptian activist
In retrospect, the edict marks the usurpation of dictatorial powers by Mursi, but the intentions behind Mursi do not seem to suggest that Mursi is intending to institute another religious dictatorship in the Middle East. Moreover, the response of the country to the actions taken by Mursi clearly illustrate the inability for Mursi to capture such a position of power. The democratic ideals and institution already installed have empowered the people and their vigor will not allow for the Muslim Brotherhood to hijack the revolution from them. The Arab Spring revolution in Egypt remains one aimed at democratic transition and Mursi has attempted to consolidate the installment of the necessary steps through his unorthodox actions, attempting to halt questions and repeals in order to solidify the passing of already unpopular acts that are necessary for Egypt to emerge as a strong democracy.