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Egypt poised for a long political battle ahead

Dr Prasanta Kumar Pradhan is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for profile
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  • July 13, 2013

    The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president after the Arab Spring, by the army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has put Egypt in a period of political uncertainty. The army’s decision to overthrow Morsi and appoint Adly Mansour, the chief justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court as the interim president, has followed huge popular protests against Morsi. Now the army has put Morsi under house arrest and ordered rounding up of 300 Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Simultaneously, the interim president Adly Mansour has ordered the dissolution of the parliament. An economist Hazem Beblawi has been appointed as the Prime Minister and the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has been made the Vice-President. On the streets, while the protesters are rejoicing the overthrow of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood members are in a huddle, vowing to protest and fight against Morsi’s overthrow.

    The removal of Morsi is a setback to the nascent democratic experiments in the post-Mubarak Egypt. Morsi has been removed only after completing one year in presidency when the democratic roots were beginning to strengthen. The decision of the Army seems to have been influenced more by the popular sentiments on the streets rather than the rule of law. As an elected leader, Morsi should have been allowed to complete his term and deliver what he promised to the people. Practically speaking, democracy in a country like Egypt needs to be nurtured carefully to creating an environment for institutions to function efficiently. The protesters and the Army seem to have lacked patience and did not have trust on the leadership of Morsi to take the country forward. As a result, the budding democratic system which was taking roots in the post-Mubarak era has suffered a severe setback.

    Such interference by the army is an unhealthy precedent for the future political course of Egypt. It will not be easy for any future democratically elected government to take independent decisions without instructions from the army, nor can any government take decisions that may irk the military leadership. In a democracy the military is always subordinate to the civilian authority. The army’s decision to topple Morsi would have sent a nervous message to the political class. Though, till now, the Egyptian military leadership has not shown any interest to keep political power with itself, but it certainly has made it clear that it won’t hesitate to intervene if the situation worsens.

    Undeniably, Morsi’s decisions were not in sync with the restive population who wanted swift change. The economy continued to remain weak with high rate of unemployment which went up from 9 per cent in 2012 to 13 per cent in 2013; inflation by June reached 9.75 per cent with steep rise in prices of basic food items and medicines; and the national budget deficit of LE 180 billion (US$ 25.72 billion) became scary. Morsi ruled in an arbitrary manner giving himself unlimited powers. He even placed the president’s executive decrees above the judiciary. The minority Christian community continued to feel insecure despite Morsi’s promise of building a modern democratic society. With the ground slipping away from Morsi’s feet, the army’s intervention was almost inevitable. The next leaders will have to face the same set of problems as faced by Morsi and will have no extraordinary means to solve the problems.

    At present Egypt remains polarised, primarily between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi supporters. Continuing violence on the streets threatens to divide the society. The violence that followed the overthrow of Morsi has only further aggravated. More than 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been killed while protesting against the removal of Morsi. There is a complete paralysis in the country with sudden change of political leadership at the top and a large number of people protesting on the streets. If the violence continues unabated, threat of a prolonged civil strife looms large over Egypt.

    Meanwhile, the interim government has prepared a roadmap for the future and wants it to be accepted by all the political parties. According to the roadmap, parliamentary elections would be held by early next year after which a date for the presidential elections will be announced. The current draft constitution will be amended within five months time and ratified in a referendum before the parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi invited the Muslim Brotherhood to join the new interim government, which has been quickly rejected. The Muslim Brotherhood, who feels betrayed and humiliated after the overthrow of their leader, is in no mood to compromise and their demands are nothing short of reinstating Morsi as the president. With emotions running high on both the sides, the situation looks grim.

    As the interim government gears up to steer the country out of the present turmoil, the military is watching. What remains a big concern is that how satisfactory the new government will function given the restive atmosphere; and what steps would the Army take if violence flares up again. Alongside these prevailing uncertainties and numerous socio-economic problems, lies the challenge for the political parties and the interim government to give people a stable and accountable democratic system of governance.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.