The ousting of Egypt’s now former President Muhammad Morsi, by popular protest in some interpretations, or by a military coup in others, has raised many problematic questions on the latitudes of democracy and limits of legitimacy. While those who relate his ousting to popular protest see it as a legitimate, corrective move justified by his non-democratic conduct, those who morn his departure blame a military establishment determined to oppose any civilian rule
Both prospects are intellectually entertaining, but equally represent a profound rupture with the existing problem. There are competing conceptions of legitimacy between the Islamist administration of Morsi and the majority of the Egyptian people who associate legitimacy with substantive democracy. In Morsi’s understanding, his democratic legitimacy is the result of a formal procedure of elections and can only be (legitimately) undone if he breaks the religious contract that enhances his leadership. As such, Morsi had steadily and publicly garnered the image of a true Islamist leader throughout his one-year tenure. He has billed himself as a just Muslim who fears Allah in public, enforces public morality, and therefore deserves and expects to be judged on these grounds. Although not stated, this self-postulated religious leadership as basis for legitimacy was as much imagined as concrete. Throughout the rich and intense debate that ended up with his ousting from power, the religious dimension of his mandate was at the forefront of the argument.
In the days he was elected, namely on June 29, 2012, Morsi pushed away his appointed presidential body-guards andopened his chest to the public at Tahrir Squire as a sign that he was not afraid of the people. By demonstrating that he was not wearing a bullet-proof vest, he was claiming an absolute trust in his constituents. During a televised speech that evening, he recited a traditional Muslim saying that goes back to the first Muslim Caliph after the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (573-634) in which he addressed the Prophet’s companions: “Help me as long as I apply justice and righteousness among you; help me as long as I obey Allah in you. If I don’t, if I disobey Him, and if I do not abide by what I pledged to do, then there is no obedience from me upon you.”
This was Morsi’s only binding oath of office, the religious contract with the Egyptian people: I will obey Allah in governing you, and you owe me obedience and support. In his first month as president, Morsi’s office announced his Friday prayer schedule and the mosque that the president would be attending, and the media often showed his emotion and tears during Friday sermons.
Morsi was a memorizer of the entire Quran, whose speeches are often ornamented by Quranic verses and hadith of the Prophet that tend to narrow the gap between the palace and the mosque, the private and the public, the religion and the secular, the Muslim and the non-Muslim. There were many occasions in which the president would stop a meeting or public gathering to personally call for the adhan to prayer. Although the very act of calling for adhan or showing tears in Friday prayer sermon or making public commentary on the Quran is a sign of piety in Muslim society, how much of it collides with the bureaucratic norms of modern state leadership or peoples’ perception of the figure of the president himself?
Let’s ponder the issue of calling for adhan. On January 20 during a dinner function in Alexandria, Morsi reminded the audience of the time for prayer. To his apparent surprise, someone shouted that he call the adhan himself, which he did. Although this event is widely admired by his followers, there seemed to be a deeper psychological attribute to its unstated meanings. Calling adhan is often left to the lesser knowledgeable of the congregation, and more often than not, it is the responsibility of the lesser educated, more available member of the group. If a muathin (the one responsible for adhan) position is open in a mosque, it is for people with low skills and meager educational training. Although cultural variations exist in its functions, a muathin is often of low social background. In Egypt, many mosques associate the function or position with the bilal or the bawwab, neither of which is an economically admirable position in Egyptian society. How much of this image is reconcilable with the functions of highest position in the country? How can ordinary people comprehend the muathin-president of the country?
We are not disputing the values attached to Morsi’s acts and gestures. In fact, they are religiously acclaimed and morally noble. However, they are problematic in the imagination of the modern citizenry of the Egyptian state. Whether admitted or not, ordinary Egyptians have grown up with the post-colonial state, which is not an empty space to be filled with personal dogma, but to be conducted with glorified-historical presence. In more concrete terms, there is a class issue here in display. The bureaucratic state has always been the sphere of the basha nobility before the 1952 Revolution. And since then, it became the platform of the military elites since the time of president Muhammad Naguib in 1952 ending with president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt was governed by decorated officers with military service, legitimized by war heroism. The Islamist Morsi was neither. Hailing from a rural and humble background, he faced a challenge of societal expectations in which he was unable to match-up due to his nonexistent background in military service. Thus he quickly faded away in the eyes of many Egyptians who have been groomed to believe in the decorated leadership of the higher class.
It is no wonder, then, that there exist many comments on Facebook and other social media outlets regarding Morsi’s performance, stating thathe is “a better a muathin than a president.” In the last two months, I have interviewed tens of Cairenes from different walks of life. It is not an overstatement that all of them have described Morsi as a God-fearing Muslim, but most of them also suspect him to be unfit for the presidency. Those from the lower-class or with less education, incline to label him adversely using terms such as gabi (stupid), ‘abeet (idiot) alastabn (second-hand president) etc. ..
There are also core supporters of Morsi. Some raised him to the level of emir of the faithful, or caliph of umma. When attending Al-Azhar University’s 39th Teacher Day celebration on March 21, Morsi’s speech was interrupted by a teacher who was yelling that “You are the emir of the faithful and we are behind you.” The prevalence of this view among jealous Islamists prompted Sheikh Ahmad Yousuf, emir of Jamaha al Jihad, and the vice-president of Shura Council of al Jamah al Islamiyya to comment, “Mursi cannot be the emir of the faithful, but only president of a country, constrained by a social contract of limited term.”
Adhan is but a selective presentation of Morsi’s misconception of functions of the bureaucratic state. On April 4, for instance, President Morsi met with Sudanese President al Bashir for a two-day state visit, ending Mubarak’s 17 year long boycott of Sudan since an assassination attempt against his life in Ethiopia in 1995, in which he accused Sudan, President al Bashir, al-Zawahiri, and bin Laden. Morsi’s visit was highly anticipated, as Sudan holds many keys to Egypt’s southern problems, namely the Nile basin, border issues on Halayebe territory, and relations with South Sudan. Unfortunately, the news from the visit was deficiently presented, and images from Morsi’s presence in Khartoum were reduced to mosque visits where he read the Quran with a group of Sudanese public figures. Although these were highly praised in Islamist news networks that saw him as engendering the lost khilafa, it did not help Morsi, the President, when two months later Sudan sided with Ethiopia against Egypt, as Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile against Egypt’s protest. Again, for many Egyptians, Sudan’s visit served the image of Morsi the Islamist leader at the expense of Morsi the President, defender of the national interest of Egypt.
Based on a previous study of the 297 world revolutions accounted for between 1900 and 2010, I am not reluctant to declare that if a popular revolution succeeds against a democratic system, then it was not a true democracy in the first place. For true democracies are well equipped to tame popular anger either by addressing legitimacy through national referenda or by satisfying demands through reforms. Morsi had a chance to do both, but he failed. His camp has continuously offered religious answers to political questions, and it has gradually reduced the democratic experience to one dependent on a two-step process: first vote, then trust.
When democracy is reduced to mere elections, then it is another form of dictatorship, like non-constitutional monarchy and oligarchy. The most common manifestations of Egyptian democracy have been an overwhelming utilization of national elections and referenda rather than politics of consensus and agreement. From President Mubarak’s abdication on February 11, 2011 to the end of 2012, Egypt witnessed three national elections and two constitutional referendums at the national level. This means an average of one election or referendum every five months or less. Election fatigue as result of this over-utilization of elections is obvious in the ever declining popular participation that Egypt has witnessed: In the first referendum on the constitution in March 2011, the level of participation was 41% of the eligible voters, and in the parliamentary elections that followed in November and January, participation reached 62%; in the first round of the presidential elections in May 2012, the turnout was nearly 50% and then in the run-off between Morsi and Shafiq participation rate fell to about 43%, and in a second referendum on a new constitution in December, 2012, participation plummeted to 31%. Therefore, it is correct to say that only 22% percent of the eligible voters elected President Morsi. However, Morsi continues to challenge his political opponents that the only valid legitimacyin democracy is that of the polls -shar’iyyat-u as-sanadiiq (the legitimacy of the polls).
Morsi seems to understand power as acting presidential, or chair-bound. Therefore, he often states, “I don’t want power,” and “that is not for me.” In his last speech after the military ultimatum, he noted, “Mohamed Morsi did not want the chair (power) and nor does he want it now; such a statement [wanting power] has absolutely no merit to it, God knows.” This has to do with the traditional Islamist perception of power as manifested in appearance, extravagance and lavishness; while the very act of being in a position of leadership is power itself. As Michael Foucault reminds us, the dimension of power is also relational.
A related example can be read in Morsi’s visit to Brazil on May 7. He seemed very uncomfortable with the rules of protocol and presidential festivities, refusing todrink/ toast with his hosts, even after being informed by the President of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff that the glass contained no alcohol. This prompted polemical discourse on Egyptian social media regarding toasts in Islamic jurisprudence, recalling the argument of the theologian imam al-Ghazali (1058-1111) that ‘a symbolic act of drinking alcohol in a ceremonial setting is forbidden in Islam as is thevery act of drinking alcohol.” Obviously, this was not the intention of the president’s visit but the misrepresentation produced by his acts overshadowed the brilliant economic objectives that were the original purpose of the visit. In a country where more than 10 percent of the 85 million people is Christian, this type of debate reminds them of Shafiq’s most repeated slogan during last year’s Presidential run-off against Morsi, “Egypt needs a leader and certainly not a Sheikh.”
Related to this debate are Morsi’s politics toward the Syrian crisis. Although most Egyptians disagree with the Syrian regime’s aggressive measures against its people, the popular media want Egypt to be in a leadership position to solve the problem. In his article, Fahmi Huweidi, Egypt’s most revered Islamist journalist, calls for the government to work in a new framework with Turkey and Iran to solve the Syrian crisis. The liberal press overwhelmingly perceives the Qatari, Turkish and US alliance as promoting the continuation of the conflict rather than halting the hostility. It was in this context that many Egyptians celebrated the rapprochement between Cairo and Tehran, hoping that such cooperation would produce a new power dynamism in the region and therefore a final resolution to the Syrian conflict. During president Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on Feb. 5, 2013, the first by an Iranian leader since 1979, Egypt conditioned improving bilateral relations between the two countries on Iran’s cooperation vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis. Both countriesagreed on rejecting violence in Syria, and that people should allow the polls to determine the fate of the ruling regime. They also attended the meeting of the Tripartite Committee, which included the presidents of Egypt, Iran and Turkey, to discuss ways to resolve the Syrianconflict. Furthermore, they proposed a four-member committee inviting Saudi Arabia to come-up with plans to resolve this crisis peacefully. On April 19, Morsi reiterated this commitment to a peaceful resolution in Syrian during a press conference in Russia with Vladimir Putin.
However, all these diplomatic maneuvers of Morsi the president were nullified over night in one of those exciting moments from Morsi the Islamist leader. In an Islamist-organized international conference, called ‘Support of the Syrian uprising’ on June 13, 2013, Morsi, announced the closure of embassies in both Cairo and Damascus, and he supported the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria, adding that“the Egyptian people and army are supporting the Syrian uprising.” Morsi made this surprising remark after Sunni Islamic preachers from around the region including the Egyptian Sheikh Yusef Qardawi andMuhammad Al-Urayfi of Saudi Arabia, declared Jihad in Syria, calling on Muslim youth to take part against Iran, Hezbollah and the Shia community. As Sheikh al-Urayfi declared in that Friday sermon at Amr Ibn Al As mosque that evening, “I swear by Allah, the Islamic Caliphate is coming back, and it looks like I can see it right now with my own eyes,” Sheikh Mohamed Hassan and Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud called on Morsi not to allow Shia Muslims into Egypt, describing them as “unclean.” An Egyptian Salafi Sheikh Muhammad Abdul al-Maqsud, president of the Legitimate Group for Rights and Reform, seized the occasion to describe Morsi’s opponents as infidels andenemies of Islam.
The Egyptian army, many foreign policy analysts, and the mainstream media were confused by the President’s surprising decision. Many asked whether it was wise for a head of a state to be involved in such a polemical situation. The army made clear that it was not interested in getting involved in the Syrian conflict, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hesitated to comment on his office’s prior knowledge of the decision to sever relations with Damascus. It became clear that Morsi did not follow the official transcript of his speech. Amidst the excitement of the cheering audience in Cairo’s fully packed 20,000-seat indoor stadium, among zealous applause and chants from partisans and Syrian refugees, Morsi the Islamist leader took over Morsi the president. Carried away by the moment, he improvised with Quranic verses and followed the general mood of the crowd, calling for Jihad and promising divine victory over Bashar, the enemy of Islam.
In a journalistic reflection, published on June 17 in Egypt’s daily newspaper, Al Masri al Yawm, Diya Rashwan notes that Morsi has become “a president of the Muslim Brotherhood, not a Muslim President.” Arguing along the same line and in the same newspaper, another leading columnist, Dr. Mustapha al Najjar wrote a column titled,“Jihad in Syria: how can emotion govern a country,” arguing that Morsi’s attitude and emotion-based politics are detrimental to Egypt. Fahmi Huweidi, the most senior Islamist journalist of Egypt, echoes the public mood and rejection of Morsi’s actions at the event. In a June 17, article in Egypt’s daily newspaper Asshourouq, he notes that he could not believe or even find comprehensible the venue of the conference. It reflected “the inconsistency of the Egyptian position in its proposal a few months ago to play a mediation role “
In the midst of this discussion of the ‘unclean’ Shia Muslims and Jihad against Iran and Hezbollah,’ four Egyptian Shia Muslims, including the prominent Egyptian Shia cleric, Sheikh Hassan Shehata, were killed in a mob attack in the village of Abu Musallam. These ostensibly related events prompted Al-Azhar University to issue astatement condemning the killing, and calling for a more tolerant and less polemic politics in the country.
For many Egyptians, Morsi’s sudden change of mind toward Syria reflected his willingness to please the Obama administration’s announcement a day earlier that the Syrian regime had “crossed the red line by using chemical weapons in the conflict.” It was widely reported that Egypt has much to lose in severing its ties in this moment, relinquishing its commitment to Iran and Russia on solving the problem peacefully.
Morsi’s conception of the democratic package might also be a problem of persuasion rather than ignorance. During his last days in office, Morsi was still holding the keys to his survival. With a strong organization beside him, he could have called for a referendum on his government or decide on early elections as was the request of his political opponents. His failure to do so can only be explained by conviction rather than ignorance. Conviction that reduces democratic legitimacy to his favorite term—shari’yyat-u as-sanadiq (the legitimacy of the polls), a conviction that respecting his leadership is also a religious duty mandated by virtue of the communal commitment to do good and prevent evil. It is no wonder that in his last speech responding to the military ultimatum, he stated that his leadership is the will of the people and “we should all remember that Allah is talking to us [as in the following Quranic verse] ‘Allah has full power over HIS decree, but most men know not’.”
Such a perception of legitimacy obviously contradicts Morsi’s earlier version of legitimacy, which was based on popular will. When Morsi was elected to the presidency last year, Egypt’s Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) insisted in the Amended Constitutional Declaration of July 17 that the elected president must take the oath before the High Constitutional Court (read my last year’s article in this platform). Morsi was not persuaded of the worthiness of these Mubarak era judges, whom his Freedom and Justice newspaper often depicted as “corrupt” felool (reminiscent of the past). So he decided to take his first public oath at Tahrir, in front of the ‘people.’ In that Friday speech on June 29, he made it clear that legitimacy is based on the people and nothing else: “There is no legitimacy, but you; you are the source of legitimacy, you give it to whomever you want, and take it away from whomever you want.”
If Morsi’s ousting was the result of popular will, the driver of that popular will was the Tamarod (Rebel to withdraw confidence from the Brotherhood System) Movement. Established on Friday, April 23, 2013 at Tahrir Squire, the group of mostly former revolutionaries maintained that, since there is no Parliament in the country, where a vote of no confidence against Morsi can be processed, it was going to collect 15 million signatures to support a vote of no confidence in Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Tamarod’s one page petition notes that since Mohamed Morsi al-Ayat came to power ordinary citizens feel that they have not achieved any of the objectives of the revolution, which were decent life, freedom, social justice and national independence. Morsi has failed to achieve them all. Neither security nor social justice has been provided. He has proven to be but a failure by all sense of the word. Indeed, he is not fit to lead a country the size of Egypt. In easy Egyptian colloquial language, the petition outlines the following seven points as justifying a vote of no confidence in Morsi:
“no security on the streets; the poor have no longer a place to go; we are a beggar nation from outsiders; the lost rights of the martyrs of the Revolution; no dignity for me or for my country; the economy has collapsed and only based on begging; he [Morsi] is subservient to America”.
“Based on all this we do not want you,” concluded the petition.
Morsi’s government ridiculed the movement at its inception, describing it as ‘useless propaganda, unless it becomes a political party,’ as stated by Muhammad al Baltaji, the parliamentary leader of the Freedom and Justice Party on June 10. In a meeting with Khalid Hanafi, the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party in Cairo on May 27, he downplayed the prospect of the Tamarod campaign, informing me along with the vising group of Duke students that “if any movements succeed in mobilizing the Egyptian people against Morsi, he will have to resign.” As the Movement gained more ground, announcing two million signatories and attracting both political parties and civil society groups, the Morsi government turned to religion to delegitimize it. Islam’s prospective on the Tamarod Movement was the topic of a round-table discussion hosted by Egypt’s Dream TV between Mahmoud Badr, the speaker of the Tamarod Movement, Professor Ahamd Kareemah of Al-Azhar University, Sharif al-Sawi, a self-appointed Salafi Sheikh, and Dr. Mustapha al-Jundi, a member of the government Islamic Research Academy. While professor Kareemah focused on the non-religious context of the campaign and the need to define it as a legal political tool, both al Jundi and al Sawi insisted on depicting the movement as anti-Islamic and the antithesis of the Muslim doctrine of obeying the ruler. Al Sawi catalogued many hadiths (prophetic sayings) on which he had based his fatwa prohibiting the Tamarod Movement campaign. One of the hadith he kept repeating was the Prophet of Islam’s saying: “Listen and obey even if you are governed by a habeshian (Ethiopian) slave, whose head looks like a dried grape.”
As a side note, I witnessed a few years ago a group of West African Muslims walking out of an International Conference in Khartoum, because of a a visiting Sheikh quoting this particular hadith. The Sheikh then backtracked, explaining that it was figurative language that Arabs of the time understood, rather than a value judgment toward anyone.
In responding to the Tamarod Movement, Morsi’s administration reached out to its global network of loyalists. On May 24, the Egyptian daily newspaper, Asshourook highlighted the meeting of the Executive Office of the International Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo; on the agenda was how to support the government financially and globally on tackling the threat of the Tamarod Movement. On June 25, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, led by Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a Muslim brotherhood member, issued a fatwa, stating: The Egyptian people by their free will have voted Morsito be their president for four years according to the constitution. Thus, he has become among the Muslim rulers, who should be obeyed, as stated in the Quran. “O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you” (Surah 4. “Al Nisa,” verse 59). Therefore, obeying him is a religious obligation, and deviating from that unless he becomes a disbeliever or commits a major sin, is forbidden.” Ibrahim Essa, chief editor of Egypt’s daily newspaper Al-Tahrir, responded in a column on June 24 entitled, “Morsi’s religiosity will not mask his failures.”
Although many Muslim intellectuals and religious institutions, including the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University Ahmad al Tayyib have come out to dispute Qardawi’s religious backing of Morsi, Qardawi’s son, Abdurrahman Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a renowned national poet and activist, published an open letter countering his father’s position on Morsi, writing that he disagreed with his father’s religious views:
We have a pact with the man [Morsi] to respect the constitution, he did not; he promised to form a cabinet ministry of coalition, he promised a government of reconciliation, not exclusion, but he did not; he promised to be a president to all Egyptians. The most important of all broken promises, he promised to be the guardian of Egypt’s Revolution, then we saw him in the days of the Revolution saying to the police – which he was supposed to reform, and did not: “You are at the heart of the January, 2011 Revolution!!!.”
Hence, dad, which of God’s covenants do you want us to keep with Morsi?
As the June 30 deadline approached and the Tamarod Movement gained more grounds, the president’s allies countered by establishing a similar movement, called Tajarod (impartiality), aiming at collecting 33 million votes in support of Morsi’s legitimacy. Established by Asim Abdul Majeed, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an ally of Morsi’s government, the movement notes its aims “To support legitimacy and stability and for the president to complete his presidential term as noted in the constitution” Asim, who quickly declared the collection of 26 million signatures,questioned the validity of the Tamarod movement and the figures announced in its campaign, noting that it was “a pariah movement, rejected by the Egyptian people, and they had only collected 170 thousand forms signed mostly by Christian Copts, evidencing that this is an attack on the Islamic project by a dirty crusade war.” Again, an intelligent conversation between the two camps becomes problematic: one talks about defending democracy, while the other talks about defending the faith.
Morsi’s disinclination to respond politically to rising political stagnation and economic turmoil was a major factor in the success of the Tamarod Movement. There were so many crises in his government. The absence of an agreed-upon constitution or even Prosecutor General for the country, many governors declared unwanted by their constituencies, the rising violence in the Sinai peninsula, disenfranchisement of the youth of the Revolution who believe that they sacrificed for the January 2011 Revolution in order that others reaped the benefit.
Morsi’s ineptitude in communicating timely and clearly to the mainstream brought about a steady breakdown in the Egyptian public sphere, allowing radical forces to fill the gap caused by the absence of the president’s leadership. By January 27, there were two different political spheres in the country, represented physically and virtually by competing forces that are at best incompatible. There was the Islamist camp, led by the Muslim brotherhood, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and some segments of the Salafi group led by Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. Physically, they separated in Cairo by setting up their camps at Rabia al-Adawiyya Square, in the popular neighborhood of Nasir city. Rhetorically, they shifted the language of the debate from Shar’iyah (legitimacy) to Shari’a and Shar’iya (Sharia and legitimacy). During their gathering on Friday, June 28, which was called ‘Shar’iya is the redline,’ rally attendees cried for Islam, called others to join them to defend the faith, while depicting their rival as enemies of the faith, praying to Allah to guide their opponents to the right path. On the other side of town at Tahrir squire, the Tamarod organizers established their headquarters calling for Morsi to resign, for early presidential elections, or at least for a referendum. Egypt’s polarized satellite TV channels echoed this division in a cacophony of polemical argument and religious fatwas. Islamist channels such as Misr 25, El-Nas, El-Hafiz, and Ar-rahmah supported the Morsi camps unconditionally, linking shar’iya with shari’a, while most mainstream channels, especially privately owned TV channels such as CBC, Dream TV, Mayadeen Channel, etc.,tended to see the battle as political against a religious state and Akhwanatual Dawla (nepotism based on affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood). This camp did not mask its enticing calls for the army to intervene as the last resort to eliminate the government of the Murshid (the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood).
On June 26, Morsi gave a long speech (156 minutes) in front of a friendly audience. The speech was an outline of his government’s achievements as he celebrated his first anniversary. Morsi, who seldom sticks to a script, abandoned the transcript and reverted to a speech between reading and improvising, thus offering improvised substance. As such, the speech was repetitive and redundantin many ways. He repeatedly admitted his many mistakes, but gave religious explanations for them (here he used Ijtihad, a legal term that means independent reasoning in Islamic jurisprudence). The problem here is incommensurability of concepts, while error as a result of Ijtihad is acceptable in Islamic thought and rather rewarded, erroneous judgment is not acceptable in the bureaucratic state. Rather, there is accountability for one’s actions and the resulting consequences before the people or their representatives. Morsi’s speech was an attack on many segments of society whom he considered a hindrance to progress and reform. In addressing the opposition, Morsi stated, “if you do not like the government, form a different one.” The speech was mostly a catalogue of criticism of the civil servants and their failures to do their jobs, the judiciary and its crooked background, and the media and its moral flaws. It became evident in the speech that the president was in a total disagreement and discontent with ‘the Administrative State,’ to borrow Dwight Waldo’s descriptive term for the state bureaucracy and its complexity.
The next day, the media considered the occasion another lost opportunity for the president; he failed to come up with a final solution to the impending crisis. The military had issued a call for political settlement five days earlier, describing the national interest to be at grave risk. Morsi’s political absence translated into the success of the Tamarod movement. By June 29 there were more than 22 million signatories to the Tamarod petition, including overwhelmingly prominent intellectuals, writers and almost all none-religious political parties, in addition to the Salafi al Nur party. A week earlier, on June 25, Alaa al Aswany, Egypt’s most prominent literary figure, who is on record supporting Morsi against Shafiq and who sided with Morsi when he suddenly fired the minister Mohamed Tantawi, wrote an article in Assourouk, entitled, “Explode or Die,” in which he argued:
“The picture is now as clear as the sun. We are not before a failed president, who deserves another chance to correct his mistakes. We are facing a fascist gang, trying to carry out a plan for the control of the Egyptian state in order to monopolize power forever. Every day spent by the Muslim Brotherhood in power leads to the loss of Egypt in all senses of the word. In the midst of this darkness emerged the Tamarod campaign, beautiful, creative revolutionary idea that would lead to the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power by peaceful and democratic means. To withdraw confidence from a president has been an inherent right in parliamentary systems. Since there is no parliament in Egypt now, the withdrawal of confidence from the president becomes the right of the people who elected him.“
On June 30, the first anniversary of Morsi’s rise to power, millions of Egyptians roamed the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Mhallat El Kubra, etc. They supported the Tamarod call for a ‘Day for Egypt,’ proof that Morsi had lost any claim to popular support. Although there were some scattered gatherings in support of the president, their numbers were extremely small compared to the more diverse, more popular crowd that was estimated between a low of 17 million people and a high of 33 million. Later in the evening, Tamarod gave Morsi an ultimatum to resign by the following day or face escalation and civil unrest. In response, a number of ministers resigned from the government, but Morsi was nowhere to be found. The political vacuum was evident: there was an eruption of violence between the two camps in Alexandria, sabotage started creeping into the Sinai region, and seventeen headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood were set ablaze throughout the country. The Egyptian Armed Forces headed by General Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, minister of Defense, stepped in, stating that it ‘is not a party in the politics or rule of the country’ but the national security of the country is in grave danger: ‘the Army forces repeat its request for people’s demand to be addressed and it give all parties 48 hours as the last chance.’
At midnight, the next day, Morsi responded to the military ultimatum with a 46-minute speech, mostly in Egyptian dialect, mixed with some standard Arabic. Many Egyptians considered the lateness of the response an unnecessary delay to address a crucial moment, but also too late in the night for most Egyptians. Some commentators pointed to this tardiness as proof that Morsi was catering to the US, where the time was 5 pm in Washington, rather than Cairo. Again, the speech attacked the previous regime, whom Morsi called addawlahal ’amiqa (the deep state), addressed corruption in the system, enemies of the state, and new democracy. He praised the revolution and apologized for his shortcomings, Ijtihad. Repeating the word shar’iyyah (legitimacy) more than 60 times, Morsi made clarified that he was ready “to sacrifice his own blood to maintain the legitimacy of his election and for the sake of Allah.”
To his credit, Morsi was right on the challenge posed by addawlahal ’amiqa, as he repeatedly put it. This is true and was anticipated as is the norm after the collapse of authoritarian regimes. Indeed, this was highly expected by the Muslim Brotherhood when it decided to pose a candidate in the presidential elections in late March 2012. In fact, the organization’s general assembly only passed the decision bya slim majority vote of 54 to52. Senior members who opposed the decision talked about the organization’s inability to address the country’s deep socio-economic problems at this crucial juncture. Fahmi Howeidi echoed this in an insightful article on April 2, 2012, entitled ”They were caught in the trap.” Like many senior members or sympathizers of the organization, he saw it as a grave mistake, noting,“I have previously said that the Muslim Brotherhood is exposed to three types of temptations: power, majoritarianism, and of the sedition negative attention. While I warned them of surrendering to any of those temptations, I am surprised now that they have fallen to all of them. I have also said in another venue that those who hate the Muslim Brotherhood entice them to come to power, hoping for their down fall in the quagmire of intractable problems. Finally, when I was asked for my opinion on what happened yesterday the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to pose a presidential candidate], I said they were caught in the trap, they have achieved the wish of their opponents, which is hard to believe.”
However, for many Egyptians on the streets, Morsi’s speech was a disappointment, and the Tamarod Movement considered it a declaration of war and violence. Thus the President has reduced a political conflict to what Dr. Ahmad Rami, the speaker of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party calls “either legitimacy or martyrdom in protecting it.” Later the next day, the Army headed by El Sisi, who was actually promoted in rank and appointed to his current position by Morsi, isolated Morsi by way of what one can be called a gentlemen’s arrangement, a development supported by Grand Sheikh Ahmad El Tayyid, head of al-Azhar University; Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Muhammed El Baradei, representative of the opposition parties; Mamoud Badr, representative of the Tamarod Movement; Jalalul al Murra, representative of the Salafi party, al Nur; Abdul al Muneem Abu al Futuh, an Islamist former presidential candidate, and other representatives of women and civil society groups. All attendees, one by one, took turns supporting the declaration, signaling the end of Morsi’s 12-month tenure in Egypt.
For the Grand Sheikh Ahmad El Tayyid, head of al-Azhar University, removing the current government was permissible in Islamic jurisprudence, stating that: “In accordance with the Islamic jurisprudence that ‘committing the lesser of two evils is a religious duty,’ and in order to resolve this political impasse, which divides the people of Egypt between supporters of the regime and opponents to its continuation, each sticking to his opinion, not willing to budge from it, I decided to support the agreed-upon opinion of this meeting that early presidential elections be organized, where the people decide through the polls. The integrity of these elections must be guaranteed by the great Judiciary of Egypt as well as the brave men of the armed forces and the heroic forces of police.”
It appears to me that Morsi perceives his legitimacy as coming from two angles: the free and fair elections that brought him to power and the religious contract that he often utilizes to garnish his leadership. The argument of his opponents is that Morsi was elected under a fiduciary commitment to liberal democracy, which is only valid when separation of powers and the rule of law are upheld. And with his government’s systematic dismantlement of these two institutions in the absence of an agreed-upon constitution, this political contract is no longer binding, and like Mubarak, the legitimacy of the people overrides any other sources of legitimacy. However, Morsi clinched to the religious weight of his leadership to disarm his critics. In his July 4 article in Egypt’s daily al Misri El Yawm, Najih Ibrahim noted that Morsi’s Islamists have lost a great opportunity due to their “failure to make new friends, and success in making enemies, by molding all others in one cluster. This would not had happened without the language of arrogance and egotism.”
It is true that most of those who revolted against Morsi on June 30 are organically linked to the group that revolted against Mubarak’s regime on January 25, 2011. If Morsi’s government had succeeded in replacing the political icons of the old regime, it kept the policy tenets of that regime. In foreign policy, Morsi’s government remained in line with Mubarak’s: It criticized Mubarak for being a puppet of the US, yet it has sought to remain within the orbit of United States influence. US Ambassador Anne Patterson regularly defended Morsi’s government in the Egyptian media.
I am afraid that reducing the ousting of Morsi to a mere military coup d’état is a flawed simplification of a grand occurrence that has consumed the Egyptian streets. It might be due to ignorance of the complexities of the people or arrogance that prevents one from admitting the many possible misconceptions of newly adopted democracies. In my July 7 interview with Helmi Sharawi, director of the Arab and African Research Center in Cairo, he noted, “We should not continue to consider Western means of peaceful political change to be the only acceptable ones. Should we legitimize political change if it only happens through so called ‘youth springs,’ ‘youth movements,’ ‘green movements’ or ‘colored revolutions?”
We should look beyond the binary debate of military coup d’état or the lack of it to consider the potential of two colliding conceptions of legitimacy, which were left unaddressed in the hasty passage of the democratic transition.
Morsi’s problem is a clash of legitimacy – his own, which was reduced to procedural democracy, supported by a tacit religious contract, and that of the majority of the Egyptian people, whose revolution had brought him to power. Morsi longed to be the great Islamist leader, while most Egyptians wanted a President for the impaired Arab Republic of Egypt. As the battle continues for a more sustainable democracy in Egypt, crafting a well-defined political contract on the decrees of democracy and the mandates of legitimacy has become indispensable.