Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Morsy Moves against the Army: How to Write about it?

It has taken me a long time to write anything about the Sunday surprise: President Morsy forcing the resignation of senior military men Mohamed Tantawi and Sami Anan. At the same time, he unilaterally canceled the army announcement appropriating legislative authority and constitutional oversight to itself. Morsy then gave himself these privileges.

Much of my delay was due to shock, the rest due to efforts to figure out what it all meant.

My first response came almost a week later by necessity, as I am glad for the habit of writing Friday Prayers. It was very helpful to try to frame the event in a manner all people here could pray.

Morsy’s moves were good, but not as good as some make them out to be. They were also bad, but not as bad as others make them out to be.

Certainly the army leadership was guilty of mismanagement during the democratic transition, if not worse. Moreover, it was never fitting for the military to formally take the powers it did, even if there were justifying factors.

In one sense Morsy put things right, but by taking power to himself he put them wrong again.

One of the main reasons the revolution railed against Mubarak was over his dictatorial command of the regime. Now, as the beneficiary of the revolution, Morsy has even more power.

Yet while this image is there, it should be drawn in. Morsy could not have sacked army leadership without the help of junior army leadership. These may be less adversarial in public, but in private may still act as a check on his power.

The question is, if this is true, are they a check on his revolutionary and democratic ambitions, or on his Islamist ambitions? Which does Morsy hold closer to his heart?

In contemplating this question I recalled a conversation I had with a leading Coptic media figure several months ago. Then I found a new writing opportunity, resulting in my first full reflection on Morsy’s gambit, published yesterday at Egypt Source. I wrote:

The worried Coptic voice interprets this as a grand scheme to implement an Islamic state. The frustrated liberal voice interprets it as evidence of their Machiavellian lust for power. Both may be right.

But what if the Brotherhood really means it? ‘Trust us’ may not result in everything the Copt or the liberal desire, but it may reflect a real Brotherhood wish to honor the goals of the revolution in respect to the conservative social reality of Egypt.

Or perhaps I have the wool pulled over my eyes.

In November of last year following the Islamist victory in the first round of parliamentary elections, I interviewed Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. Imagining I would hear alarm bells from an intellectual leader in the community, I was surprised by the exact opposite.

“I believe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to prove they can create a form of democracy,” Sidhom said, “that respects the rights of all Egyptians.” He went on to describe several positive pre-election meetings with Brotherhood leaders, from which he was convinced they were ‘decent people’.

Yet when asked why they would not submit to a consensus over binding constitutional principles, his answer has echoed in my mind in all events since.

“Perhaps … they don’t want it said, ‘They did so only because they were forced to.’”

Click here to continue reading the article.

Upon finishing the article I had the disquieting feeling I had functioned as an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood.

But here is the rub. The West enjoys liberal governance and has for decades. The revolution in Egypt is only now seeking its creation. Does the Brotherhood seek this? If so, they may need an autocratic moment to give it birth. All their concentration of power may be to show themselves the ultimate servant, when they bequeath it back to the people.

They should not be given the benefit of the doubt – there is no room for this in politics. The possibility, however, needs to be raised.

I am very cautious. Most testimony I have heard across the Egyptian political spectrum is that Morsy is a good man. I believe that power corrupts; while a man can be a benevolent dictator or philosopher king, a system cannot.

Is Morsy ushering in a new era, or is the Muslim Brotherhood ushering in a new system?

Only time will tell.

Related Posts: