Morsy at Tahrir

Addressing the crowd

Amid the celebrations, and worry, over Egypt’s new president, there has been a small crisis over where President-elect Morsy will swear his oath of office.

The military’s supplemental constitutional declaration says that in lieu of parliament, he must swear in at the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Many Islamists, however, fail to recognize this declaration and the dissolution of parliament, and insist he swear his oath in front of the chosen delegates of the people.

Revolutionaries, on the other hand, demand he swear his oath in front of them at Tahrir Square.

Mosry has chosen the balancing act, honoring two of three.

Seemingly submitting to the military dictate, Morsy is due to take his oath of office tomorrow. Many interpret this as a tacit acknowledgement of recent military decisions, or worse, indicative of a ‘deal’ or power-sharing arrangement.

Others say Morsy is simply playing along by the rules of the military in order to obtain the presidential office, at which point he will slowly, but surely, work to reverse their accumulated power. Under this scenario, he is currently cementing his revolutionary and centrist credentials so as to keep a popular mandate to resist, and then press against, the military.

Along this path, today Morsy pledged his allegiance to the Egyptian people at Tahrir.

During his 45 minute speech, he gave a little bit to everyone.

To the establishment he said he comes with a message of peace and Egypt will not attack anyone. Israel was not mentioned specifically but the intention was clear enough.

To the centrists he mentioned he would be the president of all Egyptians. He placed Muslim next to Christian, specified tourism workers, and included those who opposed him, and still do.

To liberals he pledged Egypt would be a civil, national, constitutional, and modern state.

But for the revolutionaries he saved his theatrics, worthy of Mario Balotelli’s pose. In the middle of his speech, Morsy left the podium and addressed the crowd directly. He then opened his jacket to reveal a plain blue shirt, and more importantly, no bulletproof vest. He trusted in God, and in the Egyptian people.

The triumphant pose against Germany
The dramatic pose at Tahrir

Morsy led chants honoring the ‘free revolutionaries who will continue the path’. He vowed not to accept any limitation on the powers of the president, implied in the supplementary constitutional declaration.

More poignantly, he pledged retribution for the martyrs and injured of the revolution. He did not specify, but most revolutionaries finger the military.

And when he finished his address, the official chanter boomed, ‘Field Marshal [Tantawi], tell the truth. Is Morsy your president or not?’ It was a direct challenge.

The only group left out of the above was the Islamists. There were no calls for sharia.

But he did tack them on at the end, almost as an afterthought. After referencing the large banner near the stage, he took up the cause of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Known as the Blind Sheikh, he sits in an American prison for conspiring in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. From here he promised to work for the release of all prisoners incarcerated during the revolution, and included the Blind Sheikh in their number.

And finally, he called the people to unite in their love for Egypt. Yet to this he added such unity and love would ‘promote the cause of the umma’. Umma is an Arabic term generally taken to denote the Muslim nation as a whole. He did not elaborate, but perhaps hinted at, or subconsciously expressed, the greater aims of the Muslim Brotherhood project.

Reviewing Twitter later in the day, it was clear many Egyptians, even those opposed to the Brotherhood, were impressed. Perhaps not being raised in the arts of Arabic rhetoric I could not appreciate it, but I found the speech a bit rambling and repetitive. At the same time, however, it was a stark departure from the autocrat norm. Morsy was comfortable, engaged, and theatric. He reveled in his moment.

As for the content, a politician is often judged successful by how many constituencies he can please. In this case, he hit the mark. Morsy had to shy away from his base, but even the Omar Abdel Rahman reference can possibly be understood as one of justice, as I have written here, here, and here. At the least, a nation should be expected to lobby on behalf of its citizens jailed abroad, even its guilty ones. Still, the reference will give fodder for analysts to focus on Morsy’s extremist agenda, as well it possibly might suggest.

More likely it was a bone thrown to the Salafis and al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, but who knows?

Another bone might concern the wrangling over the powers of the president. It is a key revolutionary demand, and of the Brotherhood as well. But largely it is nonsensical. Without a constitution, the powers of the presidency are undefined, yet to be determined by the people. That Egypt has reached this point is the fault and possible manipulation of many; but here, it is a rallying cry more than an issue of substance. That is, unless the charge is true the Brotherhood wish to gain control of everything.

In the end the largest question remains unanswered: Is their conflict or cooperation between the military and the Brotherhood? At Tahrir, did Morsy throw down the gauntlet, or simply pose for dramatic effect? Or, somewhat in between, was he establishing a bargaining chip? It is hard to tell. One’s answer here depends on the reading given to the revolution as a whole, not just on today’s speech.

A speech, which was on the whole successful. Is it his high-water mark, or is the best yet to come? Stay tuned, as the revolution continues. (Or not, depending on your interpretation…)

Post-script: After Morsy’s speech, Tunisian Prime Minister Rashed Ghannouchi addressed the crowd.[Ed. note: Ghannouchi leads al-Nahda Party, but is not prime minister.]Among other remarks he praised the martyrs of both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. To their number he added Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was assassinated, allegedly on orders of the government.

He then added Sayyid Qutb, who was hung following trial Nasser. While perhaps a victim of military rule, Qutb represent a strand of strident Islamism that employed violence and questioned the faith of Muslims who differed from his vision. Ghannouchi’s mention thereof, like Morsy’s reference to the umma, may reveal more beneath his public agenda. Or not; perhaps he just knew his audience.

2 replies on “Morsy at Tahrir”

A nicely balanced take. I have followed and appreciated your investigation of the free Abdel Rahman campaign, which one cannot fail to notice if one spends any time in Tahrir, and it helped me keep today’s remarks in perspective.

A minor correction: Rashid Ghannouchi is not Prime Minister of Tunisia. His Ennahda Party is the dominant member of the ruling ‘troika’ or triad of parties, and the Prime Minister and many other senior officials are members of the party. But Ghannouchi himself holds only a party position, and no official position in the state. Even more minor, he tends to spell it ‘Rached’ when transliterating to Latin script, following French conventions for North African names.


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