The Washington Post

Critiquing Morsi’s Egypt

Since he took office in June, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has received criticism domestically and internationally.

For some critics, the fact that Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, regardless of what policies he did or did not employ, would make his presidency untenable. Does that kind of prejudice inform the critical appraisals Morsi has received, both domestically and internationally? Is this just an “Islamist” versus “liberal/secular” conflict?

For years, there have been some Western analysts that have been skeptical at home and abroad with regards to Muslim and Arab populations. Within the U.S., there have been a series of reports on the most antipathetic of them. Over the last two years, this group of analysts split with regards to Egypt: one group arguing the West should have backed Hosni Mubarak over the revolution, as he supported Western national geo-political interests. The second assumes a vanguard group of pro-Western Egyptians will eventually prevail over the Islamists. Among Egyptians themselves, there are elements that mourn the end of the Mubarak era, wish that all types of religiously inspired political programs were permanently returned to the margins of political life, and might be prepared to use highly illiberal methods to achieve that objective.

On the other hand, there have been other Western analysts that have long urged an inclusion of Islamists as part of the democratic process within the Arab world. Many of them at the height of the “war on terror” were vocal against the “securitization” of Arab and Muslim communities within the West, at a time when it was deeply unpopular.

Others have gone to great lengths to demystify the modern political Islamist phenomenon, and distinguish different types of Islamisms, so that not all Islamists are portrayed as essentially al-Qaeda and terrorist in nature. Many of these analysts and commentators are now very critical of Morsi’s recent moves and the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership in this latest crisis.

Within Egypt, it is inaccurate to discredit opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as being simply, and completely, “Mubarak holdovers.” Many within the opposition are leftwing figures, human rights advocates and civil society activists. Prior to the revolution, these individuals and groups defended the rights of members of the MB under the Mubarak regime, paying great prices for their commitments. Most, if not all of them, backed Morsi against Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq in the runoff presidential election this past June. To regard them as reactionaries who cannot see past Morsi’s MB credentials misses the mark entirely.

Within Egypt, it is inaccurate to discredit opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as being simply, and completely, “Mubarak holdovers.” Many within the opposition are leftwing figures, human rights advocates and civil society activists. Prior to the revolution, these individuals and groups defended the rights of members of the MB under the Mubarak regime, paying great prices for their commitments. Most, if not all of them, backed Morsi against Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq in the runoff presidential election this past June. To regard them as reactionaries who cannot see past Morsi’s MB credentials misses the mark entirely.

The framing of the crisis between the president’s supporters and the supporters of the opposition, therefore, as being one that is essentially “Islamist” and “anti-Islam” might miss important distinctions and variations within the opposition. It is, however, that binary which many of the supporters of the president are currently promoting, with talk of one side (the MB) being “defenders of Islam,” and the other (the opposition) being against Islam.

The reality, however, is that MB-style Islamism, at least as currently promoted by the MB leadership, has become far more unpopular within Egypt. In the last year, and particularly during this latest crisis, the MB has relied more and more on radical, sectarian and divisive rhetoric to rally its more right-wing supporters. The more the MB tacks to that type of discourse, the more antagonistic, it seems, it will be to popular Egyptian opinion – not simply the organized opposition. When popular religious authorities such as Habib Ali Al-Jifri of the Tabah Foundation or the current Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa denounced the use of religion in this fashion, they found their statements met with wide approval within Egypt.

In recent weeks, it is accurate to say that many people who might have been sympathetic to Mubarak’s rule have found themselves attracted to the original “revolutionary camp” that is now deeply antipathetic to the MB – many of these for the first time, entered into protests. Others who backed Ahmed Shafiq (Mubarak’s last prime minister) for president, have also joined on the bandwagon. To reduce, however, the revolutionaries at large and the opposition leadership in general to actually becoming “Mubarak supporters” overemphasizes their involvement. This is even more the case when it is clear that the MB itself has engaged with, and even utilized, different Mubarak holdovers in order to advance their own partisan agenda in government and throughout the state.

When these types of analysts, commentators, groups and individuals voice concerns or criticisms of the MB or Morsi, they need to be taken seriously. They are not part of some sort of conspiracy against Morsi, seeking to bring him, his presidency, and the entire revolution down. The president’s supporters are convinced such a conspiracy existed, while no evidence has been provided, or any arrests made. If such a conspiracy did exist, however, these opposition forces might have been allies of the MB in defeating such a conspiracy.

Therein lies the solution to this entire crisis – a solution that has been presented within Egypt for many months. These elements within the opposition, who arguably make up the overwhelming majority of opposition forces, might have been allies of Morsi in efforts to further the aims of the revolution. They’re neither Mubarak holdovers nor are they enemies of Egypt. On the contrary: they are the revolutionary forces that sparked, and continue to sustain, Egypt’s revolution. If Morsi chooses to rule Egypt with more of a consensus based-approach, befitting of Egypt’s popular revolution, he may yet still find them as his allies. Whether he will in the future depends greatly in where Egypt’s president moves from here.