Premature end to a troubled presidency.
Few expected Egypt’s armed forces to step in so quickly, less than 24 hours after millions of Egyptians took to the streets and squares of the country’s cities and towns demanding the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Mursi.
But Monday’s stern televised statement by the army gave the president and the country’s politicians 48 hours to reach a deal. Failing to do this, the statement said, the army would intervene not to rule but to oversee the implementation of a road map to save the country’s national security. The statement praised the protesters and called on political rivals to listen to the demands of the Egyptian people. Certainly the moment belonged to military chief Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi.
It might be too late for President Mursi to salvage his troubled presidency.
His choices are limited. He and his close aides may have thought that they could weather the storm and outlast the opposition. But they were wrong. In reality President Mursi, one year after his historic inauguration, is so close to facing the same fate as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
Not even the most pessimist critics believed that Mursi could face such huge protests a year after his inauguration. He had won more than 50 percent of the votes to become Egypt’s first freely elected president. But he failed to understand that many Egyptians voted for him in order to bring down his opponent, former Mubarak prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. Mursi had made a pact with the secular opposition but soon reneged on his promises.
Few months after he took office he began to take unilateral decisions that isolated him and raised fears that he was acting as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood and not as president of all Egyptians. He issued controversial constitutional declarations and allowed his Islamist followers to intimidate the courts and independent media. And when Egyptians began to protest against his authoritarian style of government, he tenaciously refused to listen or engage in dialogue with the opposition.
The biggest fear among Egyptians was that Mursi was in fact a front for the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood which was bent on the “ikhwanization” of Egypt’s secular institutions by appointing members and Islamist allies in key positions. He had ignored the opposition and sidestepped his former allies by pushing to write a controversial new constitution for the country that ended up dividing Egyptians rather than uniting them.
Never a charismatic leader Mursi failed to portray himself as a president for all Egyptians. During the past year economic conditions got worse and Egyptians had to grapple with rising cost of living, intermittent loss of electric power, lack of public security, fuel and cooking gas shortages among many things. He stood by the government of Hisham Qandil although he knew that it lacked popularity and had failed to turn things around in the country. By Tuesday morning at least six ministers had resigned siding with protesters.
In the end he lost the backing of Salafist allies, Al-Nour Party, while former Muslim Brotherhood members attacked his policies and raised public fears about the movement’s sinister designs for the country.
While the opposition, the National Salvation Front, was unable to mobilize the street, it was the youth who had finally managed to create the necessary momentum. Sunday’s rallies are believed to have surpassed those that brought Mubarak and his regime down. In the end Mursi’s authoritarian style had united the Egyptian people against him.
But it is unlikely that Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood would give up power easily. While the movement to topple him insists that it is a peaceful one, there are fears that violence could take over soon. Al-Azhar has warned that the country could head to a civil war. The army has made it clear that while it does not want to get involved in politics, it will not stand by if the country is dragged into chaos.
The mass demonstrations on Sunday have signaled a premature end to Islamist rule in Egypt. Regardless of the final outcome it is now clear that the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably in its first real test of government. The reverberations of what is happening in Egypt will be felt across the region and beyond.
President Mursi will try to hang on for few more days, but he will be a lame duck leader as the youth-led movement against him has threatened to wage a civilian disobedience campaign across the country. It is a new chapter in Egypt’s spring and a conclusion to the Jan. 25 revolution.
The beleaguered president may offer compromises as reality sets in, but it would be too late. If he chooses to accept the will of the people then a presidential council and a new government will be formed until fresh snap elections are held. If he refuses to budge he risks aggravating the situation, pushing the country to the edge of civil war.
President Mubarak heeded the advice of the military and resigned to spare the country a bloodbath. It is something that will always be to his credit.
The question now: Will President Mursi do the same or will he cling to power at any cost?