Mohamed Morsi, happily never after?

Basile Roze - International Reporter 24 January 2013

Egypt ushered in Mohamed Morsi to power last June, months after the victory of his Freedom and Justice Party (FCP) in the country’s legislative elections. As the Muslim Brotherhood’s political representation, the FCP currently dominates an assembly that includes a strong Salafi party and a fragile liberal alliance. The historic resistance-front against former President Mubarak’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood has always been deeply rooted in Egypt’s political landscape. Upon taking charge of the country’s institutional reins, it has progressively dismissed the army and Mubarak’s former allies from their key positions, in addition to implementing a Constitution that was denounced by liberal parties as standing against women and minorities. It was this last move that was supported by 63 percent of the voters in a voter turnout that amounted to just over 33 percent.

Six months after his election, Mr Morsi and his party have also been active on the international stage. In an interview to the Moyen Orient, Egyptian writer Alla Elaswany, recently opined that the Muslim Brotherhood has merely tried to return Egypt to its “traditional role of regional leader”. In this context, it is not difficult to imagine an aggravation of regional tensions, especially given Israel’s geographic proximity. Only this week a past interview of the President was published in which Mr Morsi allegedly condemned Israelis as “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians warmongers, descendants of apes and pigs.” The White House immediately demanded an apology, and Mr Morsi released a report in which he insisted that the quotation was taken out of context.

Beside this word-polemic, one might also wonder about the threat Mr Morsi and his Islamist support pose towards the regional balance as a whole. The Salafi party – the second strongest party in the country and largely funded by Saudi Arabia – seems capable of countering the Muslim Brotherhood’s domination. It might also bend Mr Morsi towards a religious radicalisation that would only create further tensions in the regional status quo. Moreover, a recent visit to Cairo by a training Iranian officer is an indication that Tehran may be keen to play a role in the restructuring of Egypt’s security forces, and in further extending its influence in the Middle East.

However, since he was elected, Mr Morsi has repeatedly insisted that the 1979 agreements with Israel have not been challenged, and that he is keen to cooperate on their common objective: peace in Gaza. Here it should be remembered that the president played a key role in brokering a cease-fire there last November. Furthermore, chaotic economic conditions make it extremely unlikely that Egypt will attempt to upset Washington at this point in time: aggravating Israel would only result in adverse economic sanctions from the United States.

Having said that, the president’s grip on his country is not absolute. The army still control 30 percent of the economy, and its political power has not been completely shaken. Mr Morsi must also deal with a liberal opposition that is steadily getting more united. Economic turmoil, the growing harshness of the incumbent regime and its lack of democratic transparency has awoken restive crowds. Frequent clashes have erupted over the past few months in the country’s major cities. The Egyptian people have already proven just how far they are willing to go, and ultimately it would not be an exaggeration to say Mr Morsi’s next six months, and his legacy thereafter, is entirely dependent on the will of the Egyptian people.

Basile Roze – International Reporter