The speed in which Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi transformed from perceived regional peacemaker to alleged domestic dictator was staggering; within twenty four hours, Morsi’s fundamental role in the Gaza, Israel ceasefire was wholly overshadowed by his implementation of a political move that left thousands of Egyptians enraged.
After Israel’s 8 day operation in Gaza, the Egyptian sponsored agreement was enacted during the evening hours of November 21st. Egypt successfully confirmed commitment from both sides to end cross border operations. Praise was swift.
Putting aside the glaringly obvious shortcomings of what many agree was a hastily thrown together truce, Egypt’s role as mediator was a revealing development; the United States and Israel felt collectively relieved to see how Egypt conducted itself in a post-Arab Spring region.
But As Morsi navigated Israel and Gaza ceasefire measures, civil unrest and tensions were escalating domestically. Demonstrations beginning on November 19th meant to commemorate the one year anniversary of the “Battle Of Mohamed Mahmoud Street” quickly proved volatile. Days following, security forces in riot gear scuffled violently with thousands of protesters. At time of writing Sunday morning, there are still ongoing clashes in the vicinity of Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
Noting the heightened civil unrest, Morsi’s timing on November 22, to announce the constitutional decree that gives him unprecedented power seems peculiar.
He seems to have confused the international community’s warm embrace as domestic approval– he truly failed to anticipate Egyptians’ infuriated response.
One of the seven articles of the new constitutional decree reads, “The President may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.” To drown out the sound of the dictator like rhetoric, he tried to sweet talk revolutionaries by throwing in a couple of winning points: he ordered the retrial of several former Mubarak officials-including Mubarak himself and he fired Egypt’s public prosecutor-a leftover employee from his predecessor’s regime. In a tweet that went viral, protesters reportedly said they felt like Morsi gave them, “honey and poison.”
Morsi’s chief argument is that in order to ensure democracy he had to extend his power beyond checks and balances.
Egyptians have responded: democracy does not work like that.
Twenty four hours before Morsi worked out negotiations between Gaza and Israel, Morsi secured a preliminary loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. If the negotiations are indeed finalized, the IMF will provide Egypt with a 4.8 billion dollar loan package for the next two years.
Perhaps this potential financial win also added to Morsi’s confidence in his capability and power; it is likely that Morsi was attempting to capitalize on the acclaim that the ceasefire and IMF negotiations brought him when he made this power grab.
But domestically, Egyptians are refusing to allow Morsi’s economic and diplomatic gains to compensate for what is largely being viewed as pulling a Mubarak.
Since the announcement Thursday, both pro and anti-Morsi demonstrations have erupted in violence. Protesters have assembled throughout various locales like iconic Tahrir square and the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis.
On Friday, protesters ransacked the Freedom and Justice Party building in Alexandria and staged attacks at two other FJP buildings in both the al-Ibrahimeya district and Port Said.
The background music to all these protests is familiar-chants and screams a la Tahrir Square during the downfall of Mubarak. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and Molotov cocktails serve as a reminder that maybe the revolution is not over yet.
Evening hours Friday, Morsi attempted to quell unrest. In front of a demonstration supporting him, he addressed the nation stating “God’s will and elections made me the captain of this ship.” As the night wore on, it appeared the ship was sinking; protesters violently clashed with security forces, hundreds were injured. On Saturday, a national alliance of judges condemned the move and called for a total strike of all courts and affiliated offices.
Internationally, the morning afterglow of an Egypt, Israel, and United States ménage a trois has quickly evolved into awkward eye contact and forced small talk. The United States, who provides the Egyptian military with 1.3 billion dollars per year, is reportedly “concerned” about the constitutional decree. Just days ago in regard to the ceasefire, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “the new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
It’s notable that her words had barely finished echoing through Cairo’s Tahrir Square when protests began to erupt.
Morsi’s role as peacemaker this week and his potential economic win may be elevating his status temporarily, but unless Morsi quells the civil unrest that is occurring, his support and status will quickly prove ephemeral.
Parallels to Mubarak’s Egypt noted, the similarities end when it comes to the citizens. Egyptians are not the same as they were pre Mubarak; the notion that at this point the goals of the entire revolution would be sacrificed because of an over reaching political move is highly unlikely.
Clearly, the ongoing protests are illustrative of this. Civil unrest is likely to persist, with opposition forces becoming more cohesive and more intent on removing the decree or removing Morsi.
Until Morsi reconsiders the decree he thinks is allowing him to remain the protector of the revolution, Egyptians will continue to view Morsi not as the guardian to their fight but as the new obstacle to their freedom.