Egypt: Fundamentalist Morsi Defies both Protesters & Military Ultimatum, says Obama Backs Him

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s support in his own government began crumbling on Monday. Ten independent members of the Egyptian upper house or senate (Majlis al-Shura) resigned, ahead of 6 cabinet members in the Morsi government (including the minister of foreign affairs, who announced his resignation on Monday).

The resignations come in the wake of Sunday’s demonstrations by millions, the biggest rallies in Egyptian history, demanding that Morsi step down.

The millions of protesting youth had given Morsi until Tuesday to resign or announce early elections, as a kind of referendum on how he is running the country. The opposition cites his high-handedness, favoritism toward the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, crackdown on freedom of speech, and poor economy as reasons for which Morsi should resign only a year into his four-year term.

Then on Monday Morsi received another and different ultimatum, from Secretary of Defense, Brig. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The memorandum gave Morsi 48 hours to make up with the opposition.

At the same time, Gen. Sami Anan, former Army Chief of Staff, resigned as presidential adviser. He had been made a special counselor to President Morsi when Morsi subordinated the army to civilian government in August 2012.

The extraordinary military announcement raised the specter of a military coup. But the armed forces were careful to say that it was no such thing, simply a response to “the pulse of the Egyptian street, i.e. the army was insisting that the president not plunge the country into civil war, given the obvious strength of the opposition.

The crowds at Tahrir Square reportedly went wild with joy on hearing that the military was taking their side against Morsi.

But the revolutionary youth groups, such as April 6, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Current, and Strong Egypt, warned the military to stay out of civil politics. The youth groups spent the months from February 2011 through August of 2012 demonstrating and demanding that the military go back to the barracks. Their insistence that Morsi call early presidential elections was not intended as an invitation to the army to come back into politics.

Then at 2 am Tuesday, President Morsi came on t.v. and rejected the military communique, saying that the president had not been consulted before it was issued and implying that it was an officers’ rebellion against the authority of the elected president.

Morsi also quoted a conversation he had Monday with President Obama, saying the president assured him that he was committed to the elected, legitimate government (i.e. Morsi). But Obama appears instead to have said that he is committed to the democratic process in Egypt but not siding with any particular party or group. That is, Morsi misrepresented Obama’s call as support for himself. In defying the military ultimatum, the Muslim Brotherhood appears convinced that the US would not permit the officers to make a coup, and that the officers would not dare do so without a US green light. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called Brig. Gen. al-Sisi on Monday, but we do not know the substance of the call.

Morsi’s misrepresentation of Obama will inflame anti-American opinion further in Egypt, where the opposition generally believes that the US is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt for its own nefarious reasons. This impression has been fanned by statements of US ambassador Anne Patterson discouraging the youth from holding the June 30 protest and supporting the elected president. In fact, the US as a status quo power typically deals with the elected government in power. It is true that the Bush administration had treated the Muslim Brotherhood as taboo, but it is not clear that that kind of ostrich policy was a good thing.

Morsi said he would stick to his own plan for reconciliation. Since so far everything he has done has alienated the youth movements further, this stubbornness is not a good sign for Egypt.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria and elsewhere announced a determination to go to the streets en masse to support Morsi and defeat the opposition’s attempt to delegitimate him by street action.

Over the whole scene looms the specter of Algeria 1992, when the military overturned the victory at the polls of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and plunged the country into over a decade of civil war in which the Muslim religious forces were radicalized and 150,000 or more died.

11 Responses

  1. Bring back Mubarak all is forgiven. He ran the Country well for years and was subservient to the West which is what really matters.

  2. The protests in Egypt remind me of Shakespeare’s depiction of the masses in Coriolanus. Perhaps we will be seeing the same thing again a year from now, but with a different leader in the hot seat.

  3. Where were these protesters when the voting for the constitution was taking place? I hope that every last one of them votes in the next elections. Before then, I pray that bloodshed can be avoided.

  4. Dr. Cole, where did you read that Gen. Martin Dempsey called Brig. Gen. al-Sisi yesterday?

    To add to your point about the parallels between Algeria 1992 and Egypt today is that the 1992 coup reinforced an old narrative favored by the radical wing of the Islamists–the narrative that says “the west will never allow an Islamist to be freely and democratically elected because he would oppose US/Western politics”. US/Western democracies need puppets. That’s why westerners’ rhetoric about democracy is just hypocrisy.

  5. I’m just happy President Obama isn’t support Morsi. Hopefully he is ousted and someone who is not part of the Muslim brotherhood or any radical organization can step in.

  6. Morsi was elected democratically, but the MB have not built democratic institutions. The ramming through of the constitution was the start of the disaster.

    The MB is not being sent to prison, they will have an opportunity to compete fairly in new elections. Hopefully the new government will be more respectful of the entire country.

  7. I really don’t like your labeling of Morsi as a fundamentalist just to emphasize your dislike of his Islamist orientation. I follow your blog daily, but I realy would love to see more fairness in representing the views of the Islamist and its weight in the street. To me, Morsi represent moderation, while the Salafist definitely represent fundamentalism and yet other groups represent even more extremist views. More importantly, your analysis doesn’t shed enough light on how fractious the opposition is and if a new election were held today, it may bring another Islamist to rule the country and other Islamist to control the parliament. The liberals dream of producing a secular constitution, which even if they did agree on such a document will be hard pressed to find enough support for it in the general population. The Islamist need their chance to see if they actually can rule the country and find practical means of translating Shariah texts into a modern body of laws. This experience will be the best way to moderate their views and to give the Egyptian conservative population a first hand experience on what Shariah implementation really means (also give the rest of the Muslim world a very valuable test case.) Egypt is in chaos and everybody really need to mature, a process which will take years.

  8. Gee, Finally Im seeing some of this on American TV. This is different but good. This is how democracy will work, if it shall. To the streets! I hope the young win this BIG!
    Take note America!

  9. It will be interesting to see how the public demonstrations will be affected by the start of Ramadan early next week. The heat of Cairo in July is no place to be for long without water or food.

  10. It’s their first shot at democracy so it’s not really that surprising that Egypt’s having a rough time of it. Both the politicians and the electorate will require time to figure out how to make the system work.

    Hopefully nobody will do anything stupid to escalate the conflicts before they all figure out what they’re doing.

  11. Why should I believe either Morsi or Obama? Do either of them know the ‘truth’ anymore? Are interested in it? A grown man, Obama, stands in front of TV cameras in Tanzania, and tells us, in so many words, that he does not need to bug embassies and NGO buildings and their communications, to “find out what” the leaders of Europe are “thinking”? He just has to “call them” to find out??! And he says it with a straight face? And apparently the media took it with a straight face….and we are to believe him? Or Morsi? Pathetic.

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