The Decline of Morsi

One year after coming to power, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi was thrown out of office. Morsi loyalists continue to take to the streets defending the ousted president’s legitimacy while the opposition holds demonstrations in Tahrir to show support for Morsi’s overthrow. Many outside observers have questioned how this precedent will impact Egypt’s future political landscape. While it is impossible to predict what the future holds for the Egypt, hindsight allows us to examine the decisions and failures that lead to his ouster. This article explores the grievances that led up to July 3rd.

Rise to Power
Following almost a year and a half under the rule of the military’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Egyptians took to the polls on June 16 and 17 2012 to vote in the presidential run-off election between Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq a former Prime Minister under Mubarak during the February 2011 revolution. Morsi won the election with 51.7 percent. Voter turnout for the election was only 51.8 percent.

On June 30th Morsi was sworn into office becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected president. The political environment at the time of the election was in a state of flux. On June 14, the Constitution Court ruled that elections of one third of the members of parliament (MPs) were unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in the dissolution of the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s lower house of parliament

Institutional Rifts
Morsi’s first show of power came in August following attacks on military and police in northern Sinai. Morsi responded to the attacks by reshuffling security officials. On August 12, Morsi issued a decree forcing Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of SCAF and defense minister, as well as Sami Anan the army chief of staff into early retirement. General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was chosen to replace Tantawi as defense minister. Morsi reasserted the presidency above the military by reinstating full executive and legislative powers to the president.

The military was not the only political branch Morsi sought to assert him self over. A rift between Morsi and the judicial branch began to form in November when the Judges’ Club demanded that they along with the Supreme Council of the Judiciary should be responsible for drafting the judiciary section of the constitution to ensure judicial independence.(1)

President Morsi responded on November 22 by issuing a constitutional decree under which presidential decisions could no longer be challenged by judicial review. The decree went on to prevent the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the Shura Council by court order. Furthermore, Morsi allotted himself the power to select the country’s prosecutor-general and appointed Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah.

The decree was widely viewed as an attempt by Morsi to usurp power. The Judges’ Club rejected the declaration and the Court of Cassation held a general assembly, which voted to go on strike in response to the decree. The country’s eight appeals courts, as well as many of the country’s primary courts and prosecution offices joined the strike. The opposition also condemned the decree and public protests were staged.  

Meanwhile, the Constituent Assembly rushed to complete a draft constitution despite the absence of 26 members of the assembly who abstained. The failure to produce a constitutional draft that all members of the assembly could agree upon was seen as another failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to ensure consensus within the government. Furthermore, the draft included another blow to the judiciary by reducing the number of SCC judges from 18 to 11. A further escalation of the rift between President Morsi and the judiciary came on December 2 when presidential supporters prevented judges from entering the SCC, which was due to review cases on the legitimacy of the Shura Council and the assembly. The lockout prompted the SCC to suspend their work.

Under mounting pressure by the opposition Morsi issued a new decree on December 9th, which permitted judicial oversight on the presidency but maintained measures preventing the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council. The decree also prevented any judicial challenges to constitutional declarations made by the president. On December 15th and 22nd   the constitutional referendum was held, resulting in the approval of the controversial constitution. Concerns over growing partisan control increased in January 2013 when Morsi reshuffled the ministry, increasing FJP representation in the cabinet from five members to eight. (2)

Public Discontent
January witnessed widespread protests on the anniversary of the revolution and unrest following the sentencing of 70 persons in cases related to violence that broke out during a football match in the town of Port Said. An estimated 40 people died during clashes with police forces in Port Said following the announcement of the verdict. (3) The military was deployed to restore stability in the city. In March, Cairo saw further violence as mobs burned down the country’s football headquarters over the Port Said riots following the acquittal of the police officers charged with involvement in the Port Said football violence.

Morsi also faced growing discontent over his administration’s media crackdown. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reported that Morsi’s government filled four times as many cases over “insulting the president” during his first 200 days in office compared to Mubarak’s 30 years in power. (4) Reporters, editors, journalist, and TV hosts all faced persecution for criticizing Morsi’s government. In April, former President Morsi sought to quell discontent over media crackdowns by withdrawing all legal cases against journalist charged with “insulting the president.” 

In May, Morsi carried out another cabinet reshuffle. However, by appointing additional members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as individuals allied with the party it appeared that the former president sought to further insulate himself with loyalist rather than form an inclusive cabinet. The retention of two of the most controversial minsters was a further blow, increasing sentiments over Morsi’s disregard for public opinion (5). The reshuffle further isolated the former president from the opposition as well as the public.
In June, Morsi appointed seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood as governors, resulting in 11 out of 27 provinces being run by affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood (6). Following the announcement, protests and clashes occurred in Damietta, Beheira, Monofiya, Tanta, and Dawahliya. The most controversial appointment was that of Adel El-Khayat, a member of the Al-Gamma Al-Islamiya, the group responsible for the 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor that killed 62 persons. The appointment of El-Khayat as governor in Luxor sparked public outrage and widespread protests. Within one week El-Khayat gave into public pressure resigned from the office.

Moving beyond unpopular appointments and decrees, former President Morsi has also been accused of fueling growing sectarian tensions across Egypt. The government faced scrutiny after an attack on the Abbasiyya cathedral in April, as the police and military failed to intervene as the church was attacked and besieged for four hours (7). While details remain murky, it is known that the group of mourners inside the church during the attack was planning an anti-Morsi protest following the funeral service. This combined with the inaction of police certainly leads to questions over the government’s role. According to MERIP, under Morsi there was increasing sentiment “that Islamist now act as if they are accountable to no one.”

Egypt’s Coptic population was not alone in facing sectarian violence this year. In mid-June, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood claimed that Shias were responsible for all sectarian conflicts (8). The following day, former President Morsi cut ties with the Syrian regime. Furthering his position on the matter, Morsi attended a Syria Solidarity rally where Salafi clerics presented the Syrian conflict as a sectarian one and urged jihad against Assad’s regime. By attending the rally and not refuting such messages, many viewed Mosri’s presence as tantamount to accepting and even encouraging sectarianism (9). Tensions culminated on June 24th when Shias in the village of Zawyat Abu Musalam were attacked in their homes by a mob led by Salafi sheikhs. Four Shias were brutally murdered by the crowd while police made no attempts to intervene (10). It is impossible to determine the level of influence Morsi had on sectarian violence, however, these cases reveal at the very least the lack of government willingness to intervene, via police or military officers, to stop such attacks.

Beyond the political divisions during the past year the economy has been in a perpetual state of decline, causing many to question Morsi’s competency. The loss of revenue from tourism as well as foreign direct investment resulted in a shortage of foreign currency. For the public, the economic crisis has manifested in rising food prices, fuel and gas shortages, and high levels of unemployment. Unable to turn the economy around after the ousting of Mubarak, Egypt has sought over USD 30 billion from other countries (11).

Loss of Legitimacy, Loss of Office
As polarization grew and the economy faltered, the Tamarod movement was founded by the Egyptian Movement for Change in late April (12). Tamarod launched a campaign calling for Morsi’s resignation, circulating a petition for his resignation prior to protests planned for the one-year anniversary of Mori’s presidency. With the support of opposition groups, Tamarod secured over 22 million signatures by June 30. As opposition prepared for protests, the military presented the president with one week to reach a compromise prior to the June 30 protests, however, Morsi remained defiant (13). Following the expiration of the military’s deadline on July 3rd, General Sisi announced the ousting of Morsi.

Ultimately, Morsi failed to meet expectations of inclusiveness. While Morsi was democratically elected, his consolidation of power led many to believe he was not governing democratically thus lost his legitimacy. However, for his supporters, as a democratically elected leader he is the legitimate president of Egypt, regardless of mistakes. Morsi loyalists continue to hold demonstrations calling for his reinstatement. As both sides dig into their positions, tensions remain high and have culminated into violence on multiple occasions. Reconciling this ever-widening societal split remains a monumental task for the transitional leadership, as well as whatever government may follow. It is imperative that Egypt’s future leaders learn from the mistakes of their predecessor and strive to create a government inclusive of all sectors of Egyptian society to prevent a viscous cycle of government upheaval.

  1. Daily News Egypt, Timeline of Morsi and the Judiciary: One Year in Power. June 29, 2013.
  2. Ahram, Egypt’s President Morsi in Power: a Timeline. June 26, 2013.
  3. Al Jazeera, Egypt’s Port Said Swept by Lawlessness. May 28, 2013.
  4. Reporters without Borders, Mounting Freedom of Information Worries After One Year of Morsi. June 27, 2013.
  5. NY Times, Morsi Reshuffles Egyptian Cabinet. May 7, 2013.
  6. Ahram, Egypt’s New Brotherhood Governors Meet Criticism Nationwide. June 17, 2013.
  7. Middle East Research and Information Project. Copts Under Morsi. Summer 2013.
  8. Reuters, Egypt’s Brotherhood Joins Sunni Front Over Syria. June 14, 2013.
  9. AP, Egypt Seen to Give Nod Toward Jihadis on Syria. June 17, 2013.
  10. Ahram, Angry Mob Kills at least Four Shias in Giza Village Including Leader. June 24, 2013.
  11. AP, Egypt Political Upheaval to Deepen Economic Crisis. July 3, 2013.
  12. The Guardian, Tamarod Campaign Gathers Momentum Among Egypt’s Opposition. June 27, 2013.
  13. AP, Mohamed Morsi’s Final Days- the Inside Story. July 5, 2013.

By Maya Moseley


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