Patrick Sookhdeo: Revolt against Morsi shows failure of Arab Spring

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

The tumultuous events in Egypt this week that resulted yesterday (3 July) in the ousting of Islamist President Mohammad Morsi have exposed the failure of the “Arab Spring” to bring democracy and freedom to the country.

Mohammad Morsi has been ousted by the Egyptian army

Mohammad Morsi has been ousted by the Egyptian army

Egypt, July 04, 2013: Amid mounting opposition to Morsi’s dictatorial rule, millions of protestors, including youth, secularists and Christians, took to the streets on Sunday (30 June) to mark his first anniversary in office.

The opposition Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement said that it had gathered more than 22 million signatures, around nine million more people than voted for Morsi, calling for him to go.

Protests continued the following day, with activists storming the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails.

The military then threw its considerable weight behind the protestors, telling the country’s leaders on Monday (1 July) that they had 48 hours to “meet the demands of the people” or else it would step in to restore order. Yesterday, they followed that warning through decisively, putting Morsi under house arrest, suspending the Islamist-backed constitution and pledging to hold new elections.

Morsi and his supporters have been adamant that, because he was elected in a fair, democratic vote, the people have no right to remove him by protest. But what he and the Muslim Brotherhood have failed to realise is that democracy is about much more than merely holding elections. It is about inclusion, equality and ruling by consent. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote:

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost. (Politics)

But Morsi and the Brotherhood have ridden rough-shod over the fundamental principles of democracy, using people’s votes, cast in good faith, to seize control of key institutions that should be independent and impose their own agenda on Egyptian society.

Like all dictators, Morsi fell into the trap of believing that the way to retain power is to tighten one’s grip on it, when actually it can be secured in the long-term only by giving it away. For this builds trust, consensus and mutual support.

Power Grabs

Morsi’s presidency has been characterised by a series of power grabs through which he has sought to make himself virtually untouchable, an agenda that was always going to backfire disastrously in a country that had already shown itself able to rise up against dictatorial rule. The people’s discontent has been evident for some time, but he failed to give due regard to their legitimate objections and is now paying the price.

In November last year, Morsi issued a highly contentious decree that gave him sweeping powers. This was rescinded after being met with violent protests, but he pushed ahead with a draft constitution that had also provoked widespread opposition.

Morsi’s Islamist allies dominated the constitutional assembly and rushed through the draft without the input of liberals or Christians. It was passed in a referendum with nearly 64% of the vote, but the turnout was less than 35%, highlighting the people’s disaffection with the process. Many feared that the new code paved the way for the country to become an Islamic state.

Morsi has made a number of moves in an attempt to control the judiciary, one of the final checks on his authority. Thousands of judges protested last month over the president’s decision to send 13,000 judges into early retirement, a move intended to remove many from the Mubarak era.

The president has appointed Islamist allies as regional governors, most controversially last month assigning Adel al-Khayat to the tourist hotspot of Luxor. Al-Khayat is a member of the political wing of Gamaa Islamiya, which carried out deadly attacks on foreigners in the 1990s; 58 were killed in the massacre at Luxor temple in 1997.

Morsi has repeatedly tried to crush and silence dissent. Many protestors have been killed and wounded in harsh crackdowns. Media outlets and personnel that have been critical of his regime have been attacked, censored and closed down. The upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, has replaced 50 chief editors of state-run newspapers with Islamists or Brotherhood sympathisers.

People Betrayed

It is no wonder that the Egyptian people feel betrayed. They were euphoric following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 as the Arab Spring, which was sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, was hailed as a new era of democracy and freedom. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were happy to ride that wave while it carried them into office but then abused their position to turn the country in an Islamist direction.

Protests against Morsi were held on his first anniversary in office

Protests against Morsi were held on his first anniversary in office

Christians have been among the worst affected. Their plight has worsened considerably since Morsi took office, with an increase in violent attacks and also a growing number of “blasphemy” cases that have seen Christians jailed for allegedly insulting Islam.

Christians feel that the ousted president was complicit in attacks against them by failing to offer protection and in taking no action against the perpetrators. As a result, thousands are leaving the country, feeling they have no future there.

But that may change. Millions of Egyptians have this week made an emphatic statement that they do not want Islamist rule. Many Christians joined the protests against Morsi, and it is a hopeful sign that they are part of this major groundswell demanding change.

The Arab Spring did deliver democracy in Egypt in the sense that open elections were held and the people were able to cast their votes freely. But one year of an Islamist presidency has revealed how Islamism and democracy are fundamentally incompatible; qualities intrinsic to the latter, such as consent and equality, do not exist within the former.

The Egyptian people perhaps realised this too late. Morsi did after all win the presidency fair and square. Now is the time for secular forces within the country to rally and harness support for a truly democratic society. And the Egyptian people must make sure that they do not repeat the same mistake at the ballot box next time. As the writer George Bernard Shaw said, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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