Morsi’s presidential challenges
BY SARAH EL SIRGANY
Cairo: Egypt’s first civilian president-elect, Mohamed Morsi, will enter a turf war during his first days in office as the world watches the rise of Islamists in anticipation.
The former head of the Freedom and Justice Party set five main issues to tackle in his first 100 days as the head of state: Crippling traffic, failing security, a crumbling garbage collection system as well as bread and fuel shortages.
Yet the more pressing challenges Morsi will face as president in the coming days are infinitely more compound.
Before he can assume his role as president, Morsi has to define his territory in a battle that will set the tone of his term. But his fight begins even before he sets foot in the presidential palace.
Morsi’s campaign repeatedly said that he will take the oath before parliament, which was recently dissolved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) following a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), which deemed the electoral law unconstitutional.
Furthermore, a supplementary constitutional decree issued by SCAF hours after polling ended in the runoff, limited the authorities of the president and gave SCAF legislative power. The addendum also stated that the president could be sworn in before the SCC in case there is no parliament.
Where Morsi is sworn will be an indication of the nature of his relationship with the generals. It will also send a strong message to his supporters, some of whom are still camped in Tahrir Square, about his commitment to the defiance-filled promises he made before the runoff.
He cannot appear to be too weak to his voters or too confrontational to the rest of Egyptians, especially before the procedure that will dub him president. The battle will be his first step in wrestling powers from the military brass; ones he desperately needs to achieve the demands of the revolution.
Morsi must act fast to address a frustrated and easily-disappointed population. In addition to a failing economy and unstable security situation, he has to appease the conflicting demands of his voters, which include the ultra-conservative Salafis and the non-Islamist and liberal revolutionaries, and at the same time quell the fears of 12 million Egyptians who voted for his opponent Ahmed Shafik.
Morsi hasn’t only inherited the legacy of a military-led, 16-month transition, but also the accumulated damage of decades before. He must make quick fixes that can be felt by Egyptians across the political and social spectrum and address the fierce media campaign that pitted him as a Islamist boogeyman, hungry for war and a threat to Egypt’s minorities and civil liberties.
In the run up to election day, the fear of sectarian strife was exploited in negative campaigning against the Muslim Brotherhood, painting the group as the biggest threat to Egypt’s Coptic community. Morsi must address these fears immediately but not only through flowery speeches.Pushing a law regulating the construction of houses of worship to give Copts equal rights to build churches would be a step in the right direction. If it’s legislatively difficult to do so now considering the hazy fate of the People’s Assembly, he must make a gesture of equal magnitude.
Authorities and promises
Long before Morsi mulled his presidential bid, observers speculated a years-long tug-of-war with a military leadership that has been controlling state institutions since 1952. Morsi’s task was rendered even more complex by SCAF’s eleventh-hour power grab through the constitutional addendum. He must now wrestle his powers from the generals through negotiations backed by street action.
He must honor a promise not to leave the square until all demands are met to negate speculation that the protests merely aimed to install him in the top executive seat. He must navigate between the army and the street, ensuring that any compromise he will make around the negotiating table is backed by protesters defying the sweltering heat for days to achieve their goal of forcing SCAF to revoke the constitutional addendum, reinstate parliament and rescind extra-judicial powers of arrest recently given to military police and non-commissioned officers.
SCAF has already undermined his authority by announcing a new formation of the National Defense Council that will see Morsi, the parliament speaker and Cabinet ministers outnumbered by top brass. The four rights groups challenging the decision in court say it puts the military authority above the civil state.
Morsi also needs to define the red lines limiting his concessions, otherwise he will soon be unable to salvage his presidency. Since he cannot review the national budget drafted by the outgoing cabinet, now under SCAF’s control, and his authority to appoint all ministers is not a sure bet (unconfirmed reports claim SCAF wants the foreign and interior ministries), Morsi might not be able to implement many of the changes he promised or is expected to. His decline could be worse than that of Essam Sharaf, the prime minister hailed in Tahrir in March 2011 who months later resigned following deadly protests after failing to deliver under military rule.
Three decades under Mubarak fueled genuine disdain against the Islamists in state institutions, which was amplified during the election. These institutions could bring down Morsi by plunging the country into one crisis after another. Morsi has to ensure that he will not be betrayed by a state-bureaucracy replete with holdovers from the former regime while implementing major structural reforms. As the supreme authority over such state institutions he will now be held accountable for any failures. In the Ministry of Interior, he’ll have to make friends with old enemies to stop a feared mutiny that could prolong and worsen Egypt’s security vacuum. The same goes for fuel and bread supplies that have been at the heart of subsequent crises over the past months.
Extending a hand
Morsi will also have to appease the divided political scene, whether within the ranks of those who supported him or those who spoke vocally against him. His campaign spokesman Yasser Ali repeatedly said that the Brotherhood has learnt from past mistakes and realized that cooperation with all political groups is essential to its survival. Ali said all issues, including the dissolving of parliament and the addendum, could be resolved through dialogue with other forces, including those who see SCAF as a vital balance of power against the MB. Morsi’s camp must show genuine willingness to cooperate, and to end the arrogant, unilateral decision-making attitude for which they have paid a heavy political price.The MB members of the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the constitution must also show more flexibility during their meetings. This could lead to speeding up the constitution writing process, minimize SCAF control, and prove that Morsi can back his words with actions that prioritize national consensus over narrow political interests.
The real deal
Many of those who voted for Morsi’s chose him out of a conviction that he is the only one capable of making significant change in their daily lives. Many of these have borne the burden of the mismanaged transition, rendering their already impoverished condition more intolerable. Morsi’s 100-day plan aims to do just that, but with the challenges he faces, he might not be able to deliver what he promised to the biggest bulk of his constituency immediately.
Morsi Meter, a website tracking the progress of this five-fold plan detailed into 64 points, is already up and will start monitoring his performance the day after taking the oath, by collecting data from specialized groups and citizens. The team behind it, which also brought the corruption and crime whistle-blowing website Zabatak, aims to monitor and also to assist Morsi in figuring out solutions. Morsi has to capitalize on this spirit and initiate communication with these grassroots efforts.
Egyptians are not ready to accept excuses. Morsi must keep in mind that if he fails to deliver tangible decision in his first days in power, he will lose more than what the MB lost over its five months in parliament in terms of popular support and the coherence of its own internal structure.