By Brig Samson S Sharaf
The ouster of the first popularly elected Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi is a reminder that rootless democracy cannot strive in countries where praetorianism and patrimonialism override the patience to allow painstaking evolution of a democratic culture through gradations of chaos and anarchy. In countries with a praetorian and patrimonial past, it is ill advised to irritate the coterie that can vomit out coups. Countries in economic turmoil exercise little leverage in being independent and therefore are vulnerable to failure caused by stringed aids and grants, public outcries manipulated by the deep and outside actors. Multiple fronts in a nascent democracy never go unnoticed. Overzealous ambitious are aides most likely to become the Achilles Heels. In such nascent democracies what Caesar said to Mark Antony has good advice:
Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.
That Morsi survived without a democratic constitution and struggled to frame one is a contrasting study between romantic democrats and men on horseback. The least that Egypt’s power players could now do is to take a crash course on constitutionalism, democracy and pluralism to ensure that the dispensation they return is a step in right direction.
The Al-Sisi coup is masterminded and executed by a general commissioned long after Egypt severed military contacts with Soviet Union and one who was trained in Britain and United Sates of America. This déjà vu by a new generation of Egyptian officers trained by men like General Petraeus and the British Army belie professional grooming sans democratic nurturing. Though some may argue that the leadership thrown up by the coup is a reflection of the old Mubarik Guard, it actually symbolises the reiteration by the Egyptian Armed Forces that space for Islamists in the country’s political system is limited.
Morsi was an upstart in the Egyptian political system. He chose General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi as his closest aide; one who would facilitate his power consolidation. Al-Sisi supported him in firing four top Egyptian generals. As reward, Al-Sisi rode rapidly through the ranks to become the Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. But this is where it ended. The patrimonial Cassius was live, ambitious, powerful and thinking.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the outcast of Egyptian politics has remained most organised and popular. To become a compromise president, Morsi morphed the movement into a more moderate Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and promised to accommodate all factions of society. Better organised than others, Morsi edged Ahmed Shafik his closest rival by 51.7%. He became President of a country that had neither a constitution nor a legislature to help him take the big democratic leap. He was convinced that the judicial constitutional court was undemocratic and anathema to democratic values.
Morsi’s ideology and attempts at framing a constitution enshrined in Islamic Law created a fault-line between him, the judiciary and the armed forces. He created an interim hybrid of the Presidential and Parliamentary System to promote constitutionalism by reinstating the dissolved parliament that had a majority of FJP and other Islamist parties. Within months of assuming power and support from Al-Sissi, he fired Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the country’s armed forces, Sami Hafez Anan the Army Chief of Staff and two other high ranking officers. He announced that constitutional amendments framed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would be annulled. In November 2012 he granted himself unlimited powers to legislate without judicial oversight (considered a leftover of Mubarik era). He declared that legislation of the constituent assembly was protected from judicial oversight. Morsi felt these steps were imperative to protect the democratic revolution.
Within this chaos, a relatively young General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi rose through the ranks to become the Commander in Chief of the Egyptian armed forces. The progressive, liberal, secular and leftist political parties were apprehensive that Morsi was manoeuvring to place himself as an Islamist autocrat. There was also subdued criticism of Al-Sisi as Mori’s accomplice. Recession provided environments for resentment. Though Morsi withdrew some of his decrees, the opposition walked out of the assembly and brought crowds on the streets. Riding the wave of public sentiments, support of diverse groups and the opposition, the Deep State has taken democracy to the operation theatre for surgical procedures by butchers.
In international politics, Morsi moved cautiously to emerge as an Afro-Arab leader. He seemed willing, calibrated and cautiously poised to take the high moral and democratic pedestal. He showed no haste in the Arab Summit to join the pro-US Arab states in condemnation of Syria, something that irked Saudi Arabia. He used a different perspective at the NAM forum to reiterate his commitment to democracy and condemnation of the oppressive Syrian regime. He reasserted that Egypt was more willing to work with functional and representative Muslim democracies than states that are autocratic. He declared that the Arab Springs belonged to the people, a veiled declaimer to interference by other states in Syria and West Asia. He was the first Egyptian Head of State to visit Iran since 1979, met the supreme spiritual leader and visited an Iranian nuclear facility at Bushehr. In Pakistan, he was treated like a celebrity and conferred a doctorate.
But there was a dark side being flashed out through the media. His candid remarks were often quoted out of context that made him appear anti-secularism, anti-Israel, anti-coptic and a Jihadist. With economic pressure building and no support from IMF, USA and Saudi Arabia he leaned towards the Chinese and their growing Chinese influence in Africa. This straw broke the camel’s back.
Like Gul and Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Muslims world over expected Morsi to rise to the challenge and create a model plural Islamic regime as a counterweight to western liberalism and secularism. While Turkey’s protestors have retreated, Morsi’s house was a deck of cards with no foundations to withstand pressures. The wind blew him away, at least for the time being.
Commenting on Morsi, M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote ‘the Arab Spring has borne a strange fruit in Egypt – a pure breed, unlike the hybrids in Tunisia, Libya or Yemen’. In times of genetic engineering, pure breeds do not have a chance. The coup provides FJP the needed martyrdom of those who fell for democratic values. The strengthened party will fight back for a democratic cause and intense vigour.