International Analysis: Insurmountable Odds

By Wael Haddara

≈Op-Ed≈The Mark News≈

There has been a barrage of opinion pieces attempting to explain what happened in Egypt on July 3, most of which present a rather superficial and simplistic analysis. One of the most common explanations, for instance, is that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – and, by extension, his Muslim Brotherhood backers – decided to abandon democratic principles and make a deal with the army that ultimately backfired on them. The reality is much more complex than that.

In August 2012, Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, replaced the senior military leadership of the Mubarak era with a younger generation of generals. Cynics interpreted this as a sign that Morsi had cut a deal with the military that would allow him to pursue a more dictatorial Islamist agenda, and that would allow the military to retain its corrupt and historic stranglehold on Egyptian society.

There was no such deal. Morsi wanted to empower the army to do what an army is supposed to do: protect the nation’s borders and defend the country against its enemies. He also wanted to wean the military from its assumption that it has a right to interfere in political life in order to preserve its own corrupt involvement in Egypt’s perilously unstable economy.

As we can see now, the army was never really willing to contemplate its exclusion from power or subjection to civilian oversight: It had too much to lose. The same could be said of other groups, like the oligarchs, elements of the civil service, and media tycoons, that have deeply vested interests in maintaining their influence in a corrupt system.

One could argue that President Morsi was doomed from the start. Powerful groups that had thrived under the old system were able to manipulate growing dissatisfaction with the performance of Morsi’s government to the extent of fomenting public protest. It’s now clear, for example, that the Tamarod movement, which sprang up last April as the ostensible voice of widespread popular opposition to Morsi, received backing from both the army and the oligarchs.

This is not to say that Morsi is blameless. But neither is it accurate to portray the military coup as a result of his failure to attempt to reform the military.

Morsi inherited a terrible situation when he was finally confirmed as president in June 2012. The economy had been on a downward trajectory for years, but even more so since the revolution. There were multiple security threats. Those opposed to Morsi’s election were not ready to admit defeat or willing to see their own interests threatened, and so refused to cooperate in building a new Egypt.

Rather than explaining how dire conditions were, and how long and difficult the road to recovery would be, Morsi focused on the message that if all Egyptians worked harder, things would get better.

In the past year, there were accusations that Morsi was moving to further solidify his hold on power. The current popular narrative is that the army moved to limit those powers.

There’s no question that millions of exasperated Egyptians felt something had to be done to resolve the impasse of last summer, but did they really want the bloodshed and suppression of democratic freedoms that have followed the military coup? Do they believe the way forward for Egypt is to step back to the days when the nation was run for the benefit of privileged interest groups?

Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, whom Morsi appointed in August 2012 to command the army and be his minister of defense, played the leading role in the military coup. El-Sisi offers assurances that there will be free elections in the near future. But looking at the systematic repression and arbitrary curtailing of freedoms that have happened since the July coup, it’s hard to take that seriously. You can be sure that even those Egyptians who initially supported the army’s move were not expecting the kind of wanton brutality that’s followed.

And how can you have free, representative elections when so many legitimate contenders vying for a say in the future of Egypt have been imprisoned, exiled, or otherwise muted? Some may be content to see the Muslim Brotherhood banned and its assets seized, but should a movement with support from so many Egyptians be excluded from future participation in the nation’s politics? In the worst-case scenario, such repression could lead to the kind of radicalized splinter groups we saw result from earlier attempts to silence the Muslim Brotherhood, more than half a century ago.

It’s very hard to be optimistic about Egypt’s future right now. The situation is extremely complex, and if Egypt is to have a democratic future, whoever leads it will need to grapple with that complexity.

Egyptian-born Wael Haddara was an adviser to ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Haddara trained in Canada as a pharmacist and doctor and is currently an assistant professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario. He is well known as a Canadian Muslim academic, speaker, and activist, and his particular strengths include strategic media coordination and political engagement. 

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