Allan Massie: Sun shines on Morsi, Egypt’s man for all seasons
WHILE the ruling sectors mark out their territory, economic growth is the subject most Egyptians want to see addressed.
So Egypt has a president: Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. He promises to be the president of “all Egyptians”, which is the sort of promise that most newly elected Heads of State make. Just what he means by it is anybody’s guess. It is equally uncertain how much power he will have.
As for now, Egypt has a president, but it has no parliament and no constitution. The parliament elected months ago was dissolved during the presidential election campaign by order of the Constitutional Court, which is still controlled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf). The same body has expressed its determination to write the new constitution. That will ensure that Scaf retains control of foreign policy and internal security. Moreover Scaf remains tied to the American alliance; it depends on the $1.3 billion of military aid it gets from the USA every year.
Morsi has begun cautiously and will surely continue to walk warily. As a member of the Brotherhood, he is a devout Muslim, but he is no Ayatollah; in fact he is an engineer.
Post-Mubarak Egypt is not going to be like Iran after the revolution there overthrew the regime of the Shah. There has been no full-blown Egyptian Revolution, only a bit of one.
Morsi cannot be unaware that the country is deeply divided: 48 per cent of those who voted in the second round of the presidential election backed Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister. Many doubtless did so reluctantly – to keep the Brotherhood out of power. But then there were many who voted for Morsi in the second round after backing other candidates in the first one; and it is reasonable to assume that a good many of them did so as a vote against a representative of the old regime rather than as an expression of enthusiasm for Morsi and the Brotherhood.
The politics of the Middle East are complicated. Saudi Arabia, the richest and most conservative of Arab States supported Shafiq, not the Brotherhood’s candidate. At the same time Saudi Arabia is backing the Syrian rebels, while the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has sent his congratulations to Morsi. Hamas in Gaza has welcomed his election too, and it is possible that the border between Egypt and Gaza will be opened.
Yet Morsi has promised to respect Egypt’s treaty with Israel, a treaty which acknowledges what Hamas denies: Israel’s right to exist. Yet while Scaf retains control of foreign policy there is not likely to be any major change in Egypt’s relations with Israel, though there may be more pressure from Cairo on Israel to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians.
Within Egypt, if Morsi is going to have to walk warily, the army leaders will move cautiously too. The Security State remains in being, but Scaf is now aware of the strength of the opposition to its excesses. That opposition is both Islamist and liberal-democratic. The army has wisely accepted the result of the election, rejecting what has been called “the Algerian solution” (In 1991 an Islamist Party won the first round of elections there. The army cancelled the second round and took over the government. The result was an insurrection and civil war in which at least 100,000 were killed.)
What we are likely to see in Egypt, is a division of power and responsibility. Morsi and the Brotherhood may be permitted to take control of social and economic affairs – as long as they don’t interfere with the military’s own domination of State-run enterprises or clamp down on the corruption which allows the generals and colonels to become very rich
Ceding some areas of government to the Brotherhood may be bad news for the Christian (Coptic) minority and for women, whose freedom may be more restricted. This may not much concern the military.
In truth however the shift from the Mubarak regime may not be so very great. Though the Brotherhood was barred – like every other independent grouping – from political action, and though its members could stand for parliament in the rigged elections only as independents, there was a tacit understanding between the Islamists and the military state. The mosques were permitted to take control of schools, hospitals, charities and welfare organizations. Christians were tolerated, but not protected. The military have accepted that there must be change, but only so much as will not diminish or even dilute their power. Much will therefore remain the same: Mubarakism with a more Islamic pseudo-democratic face.
This may hold for some time, but it will do so only if the new regime – this uneasy alliance between Scaf and the Brotherhood – proves capable of addressing Egypt’s most urgent problems, which are economic and social rather than constitutional. The country has a predominantly young population, high unemployment, poverty, social deprivation and economic backwardness. There is a large middle class, but even its children, many of them university graduates, cannot find work. Egypt is in need of inward investment – in something other than property and tourism – though it is also essential for the economy that the tourist trade revives.
Unlike many states in the Middle East, it doesn’t have oil. Its chief resource is its young people, especially the well-educated ones; and this resource is not being used. Indeed it is being wasted.
The revolutionary movement that sprang to life last years expressed itself in opposition to Mubarak and the repressive State he had presided over. Yet, while the young people who thronged Tahrir Square called for political reform and democratic freedom, there were also economic causes for their discontent. Unless the new diarchy – the Brotherhood and the military – can find the means to generate economic development and satisfy the natural aspirations of young Egyptians, what we have seen may prove to have been only the first stage of the Revolution. The alternative is depressing: a renewed clamp-down and the strengthening of the Security State. Morsi promises to be president of all Egyptians. Perhaps.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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