Egypt’s Countdown to Meltdown: Morsi Refuses to Deal

The Egyptian military’s ultimatum to the Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi and his left, liberal & centrist political opposition to find a compromise by 4 pm Wednesday Egyptian time was disregarded by both sides, but most spectacularly by Morsi himself. The country was plunged into crisis when some 3 million demonstrators against Morsi came out into the streets and central city squares of the country last Sunday.

Alarmed, the government of Kuwait urgently called on its nationals to leave Egypt and discouraged further travel to the country, for fear it could descend into chaos.

On Tuesday night Morsi gave a defiant speech, praising as “great” the controversial constitution that passed last December by a little over 60 percent of the vote, with only a 30 percent turnout. That constitution is rejected by most Egyptians as having theocratic implications and as the fruit of a non-consensual drafting process in which the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi fundamentalists had undue representation. Morsi used the word “legitimacy” 72 times in a short speech, underlining that he was democratically elected and saying that he has a responsibility to stay in office.

I have to say that the brevity and completely uncompromising character of the speech surprised me. Morsi did not offer to revise the hated constitution. He did not offer to form a government of national unity, with cabinet members from the opposition parties. This, even though his cabinet is collapsing, with six resignations, and even his own spokesmen have resigned. He did call for a reconciliation commission, and promised parliamentary elections in a few months. But these are not new ideas and are unlikely to resolve the conflict.

After the speech, Tahrir Square was if anything even more energized, with the Opposition “Rebellion “volunteers calling with renewed vigor for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Rebellion maintains that in placing himself above the law last November, in ramming through a fundamentalist constitution, in packing the upper house of parliament with the Brotherhood and its sympathizers, and by neglecting to improve services or the economy, Morsi has forfeited the right to finish out his four-year term (he was elected in June, 2012).

Minister of Defense, Brig. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a statement that the army would intervene to save the country from any outbreak of terrorism. (Right wing Muslims have been threatening to turn to terror tactics if Morsi is forced from office).

The day began with a phone call to Morsi from US President Barack Obama. What Obama said, exactly, remains unknown. But Elise Labott of CNN reported that administration insiders told her that Obama was urging Morsi to hold early elections. This explosive news sounded like naked American interference in Egyptian affairs, on behalf of the Rebellion movement that is seeking Morsi’s resignation. The State Department quickly moved to deny the report, but later in the day admitted that Obama explored a range of resolutions with Morsi, and that resignation figured among them. Ms. Labott must have gotten whiplash from the USG revelations and denials, and someone owes her an apology.

Morsi had said on Monday that Obama was supporting him as the legitimately elected president of Egypt. Morsi either misunderstood or misrepresented the American president.

As soon as Morsi ended his speech, clashes broke out between his supporters and police in the vicinity of Cairo University, leaving at least 16 dead and 200 wounded. The dead are said to be Muslim Brothers, killed by police and “thugs.”

It seemed clear that in adopting this defiant tone and attempting to just tough out the challenges from the Rebellion (Tamarrud) youth movement and and from the military, Morsi was setting Egypt up for a major national set of confrontations. The army is openly worried about a descent into civil war.

Channel 4 News reports

Posted in Egypt | 18 Responses | Print |

18 Responses

  1. This position by Morsi is a retrenchment from the more conciliatory statements he made before in which he said he was ready to explore various options, including amending the constitution, if the opposition would only come to the table. He should really call around and find out which of the MB bigwigs are still around. The Hazemoun’s Sh Hazem is out of the country for “medical treatment” and his no.2 sits in jail on charges related to a murder committed by his son. There is currently a “no travel” ban on some of the MB figures and yesterday there were rumors that Khairat El Shater skipped town…[maybe to Gaza, I wonder?]

    As has been his habit since even before taking office, he has refused to counter or condemn the spin that his followers are in a fight for Islam against apostates and more recently, the explicit calls for violence among his supporters. [A taste of what they have been saying is part of Bassam Yusuf’s Albernameg…the first tranche of which surprisingly had English subtitles.]

  2. Morsi’s undemocratic and hard-line stance, beginning with his ramming through of the MB-inspired constitution and continuing through the current chaos, demonstrates that Neither Morsi nor the Muslim Brotherhood have changed their stripes. It was evident from the beginning that the MB wanted an Islamic state, and their past history indicated they would not countenance a (in their view) watered-down pluralism.

    Remember when this all began, spokesmen for the MB stated publicly they would not run a candidate for President, and then they did? It was obviously a bait and switch tactic meant to put the MB in a more favorable light, given their past history. This was so predictable from the very beginning. If the military were to take charge of events, Morsi and his MB minions would have only themselves to blame.

  3. At best, Egypt becomes another Pakistan, whereby the military dictates politics. At worst, it becomes another Afghanistan, in which the Muslim Brotherhood, like the Taliban, take up terrorism to exact revenge for its overthrow.

  4. Thank you for your remarkable energy Professor. Your ability to put the crisis into context has been very informative for me.

  5. I have no sympathy for the Islamists or Morsi, but elections have consequences. Those who do not turnout and vote, don’t have the right to show up a day later to the party and throw a temper tantrums.

    I was there in Cairo during the constitutional referendum and the young Egyptians did not care at all. They were sipping tea and playing dominos. I asked several of them (all over the old Cairo and the new one) if they voted and all of them said they didn’t and they didn’t care about the referendum. When i asked “why? It’s the constitution?” They replied, almost in unison, “Hadihi Masser Ya Akhy, no one cares about the constitution and it’s a document with out value.”

    Well, the constitution was ratified. 30% turnout is not Morsi’s fault. 30% turnout is the opposition’s fault for not being able to mobilize their base and voters and get them out to vote down this constitution. So, they don’t have any sympathy from me about their weak mobilizing and organizing powers.

    Moreover, calling on the military to intervene in the democratic process is a very dangerous precedent that this opposition is setting. What guarantee do they have the this same thing won’t happen again for the next president and the one after next? What guarantee do they have that this military, which suddenly became the most republican military in the history of the military, is not going to do this every time they don’t like something? Turning the military institution into a veto player over the civilian democratic process is inviting more problems, not solving them. Look at the experience of Latin American countries, It never ended well (This is a great piece by Snider on Latin American country civil-military relationships.: link to

    As Linz and Stepan argues, the day democracy becomes the only game in town, then we can talk about a true democratic process and democratic institutions. For the Egyptian opposition to masquerade (this ad-hoc coalition of leftist and youth and women, and yes supporters of the former dictator Mubarek) this coup as some sort of saving democracy from the jaws of death is a joke. The Opposition voluntarily abdicated their power to the military and weakened their democracy for good.

    Sorry for this long post Dr. Cole. I can’t help it. I am institutionalist :)

    • Your anecdotes to the contrary, only 30% voted in the constitutional referendum throughout the country, and it was clearly because they believed that the fix was in and they did not like it. Morsi should have known better.

      • Well, they should have voted “No” then. That’s what we do. We go out and defeat the referendum. I don’t understand your reasoning at all. Moreover, how did they know that there was a fix? What proof did they have? Was there even a fix? And if they knew that there was a fix and they didn’t act to defeat that fix, are they crazy to risk a civil war?

        My stories are for sure anecdotes, so are yours Dr. Cole.

        Our feelings aside, this is a coup and it is illegitimate one. And no amount of excuses would justify this coup.

    • The question is, did the opposition legitimately have the right to believe that events since the election proved that there would never be another fair election again unless there was a change of government now?

      Of course, that can be spun both ways. Every rebellion makes that argument whether or not their cause is just. And there are countries where the opposition waited too long to move against a government and got slaughtered.

      What representative democracy does is take great conflicts between the citizens and dump them into the hands of rival politicians who often are unequal to the challenge. When representatives are no longer able to rule, the citizens are at each others’ throats. But maybe a time comes when that is exactly what must happen for the concept of a nation to be more than a joke: the citizens must recognize and deal with each other. The question of civil war is still in the hands of those citizens glaring at each other over barricades tonight.

      I think a lot of America’s problems come from our citizens being strangers to each other, but I fear what would happen if they learned how utterly alien and exclusionary their conflicting worldviews are, and there happened to be some guns in the crowd.

  6. I rather think the rebels have an unassailable point about who abrogated democracy. Morsi used an administrative coup to establish the framework he and his party wanted and then declared democracy back in business under his rules. Nice if you can get away with it, but perhaps he can’t.

  7. I don’t see this situation ending well in the short term. I can’t see the Muslim Brotherhood giving give up power willingly.

  8. You charaterize the speech as surprisingly brief. The New York Times is calling it a “long and rambling” speech. Is that just trotting out the old tropes for official enemies?

    New elections are the way to go, as is parliamentary democracy generally. “No Confidence” measures are the rational and orderly equivalent to mobs in the street and Army ultimatums.

    May I predict that the precariousness of economic life for most Egyptians will not be reversed any time soon? Mobs to the streets again after Morsi departs? Not to be cheered.

  9. What a surprise. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood behaved like a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  10. A Military Coup in Egypt is a recipe for disaster, it could lead to an all out Civil War.

    The uprising just over a year ago at Tahrir Square, Cairo was against a military dictatorship. A military coup in Egypt now, could have disastrous consequences for this country of 85 million people, possibly damaging it irreparably.

    Egyptian Military is one of the most incompetent, ill trained, corrupt and disorganized militaries of the world. Their Generals have fattened on power and graft, they are incapable of running the military, let alone run the country.

    The uprising then was against the corrupt and hated regime of Hosni Mubarak, a military dictator who ruled for 25 years with an iron grip. The general public rose against the choke hold and wanted to see a democratic set up in the country. But due to manipulation of Egyptian military, (backed by U.S.) underhand deals were made with Muslim Brotherhood in the hope of restricting them to parliament only. The plan was to have a pliable candidate elected as President, so all good and independent minded Presidential candidates were barred from contesting elections.

    Like most unholy deals, this too came undone. Contrary to earlier promises, Brotherhood insisted on fielding a candidate for President and withtheir extensive network, they were able to capture enough votes to control the parliament and then the Presidency. This was not the result people had demonstrated for, in fact this was a negation of their hopes and aspirations. Had the military not cut a deal, Brotherhood would probably not have won more than a handful of seats in the parliament.

    The anger on the streets of Egypt today against Morsi regime is because he does not represent the the majority. Most Egyprians want a secular, democratic Egypt with freedom for all and not the theocratic state Muslim Brotherhood wants.

    A military coup is neither appropriate nor an option at this stage. Brotherhood came to power through elections and they should be allowed to serve out their term. Next elections should be held without military intervention and should be free and fair. If that were to happen, chances are, Brotherhood will be voted out of office. Democratic means should be the only method for a change.

    If Morsi survives, he should realize that he has come to power due to military’s manipulation and he does not represent the majority. He should take the views of the majority into consideration.

    A military coup now is likely to pit the Brotherhood against the military. The general public may feel relieved momentarily, but they too are in no mood for military rule again. In a worse case scenario, Brotherhood could take up arms Taliban style and inflict heavy blows on the military causing great upheaval leading to an all out civil war.

    The Egypt Military and its sponsor (the U.S., the great champion of democracy) should think again before taking any steps to overthrow an elected regime, no matter how unpopular.

    link to

  11. Surely the military is simply deciding that they now need to share a bit of power with the anti-Morsi groups rather than the Muslim Brotherhood. The army has always been an important player behind the scenes for decades and have a significant stake in the Egyptian economy.
    Much of the reaction against Morsi is about the economic situation in part caused by IMF conditions re subsidies etc. Even though Morsi himself was a free market person, the The armed forces will now be responsible for seeing to it that there is stability for even more “reforms” to make things much better for international capital. As one commentator mentioned as in the ousting of the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood might not except the result. However, the more radical Islamist Salafist groups take the position that there should be early elections. This would seem to indicate they think they can prosper at the expense of the Brotherhood in a vote.

  12. What a tragic situation.. I can’t think how the military thinks that this step avoids civil war. I would think that the MB and Salafists, convinced that their supporters are being dissed by the liberals and the army, will resort to armed rebellion a la syria

  13. There’s an interesting commentary piece in al-Watan here:

    link to

    I thought the writers comment that the tragedy for the Muslim Brotherhood is that it’s now hated in its country of origin was very astute.

    He also compared the situation in Egypt to the fall of Communism saying that when Communism ended in Russia it also fell in its ‘dependencies’.

    Any thoughts on that Juan?


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