Egypt: From Mubarak to Morsi to Mayhem

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Jul 06, 2013, 17:36 PM IST

The victory chants at Tahrir Square a year ago were proclaimed by the western media as the bugle sounds of democracy. Egypt, one of the countries which saw a regime change as a part of the Arab Spring, is now witnessing a summer of revolt.

While the West had celebrated with the Arab citizenry when one autocracy after another was toppled, little did it predict that a cauldron of restive emotions would be set in constant motion, and would be kept simmering by the disenchantment of the perpetual rebel.

The danger of democracy is precisely this. That people take power into their hands and disillusionment with the rewards of the harvest of rebellion eventually causes wildfires - uncontrolled, widespread and chaotic.

This is particularly true in fledgling democracies, when populaces have not tasted freedom. They don’t know the limit which should be defined for the outcry of opposition. Conversely, a popularly elected leader takes time to understand the power of the people in a country that has been tightly held for decades. The novel experience of social equity thus throws up the gravest challenge to democracy.

And it could have a ricochet effect, destabilizing surrounding countries struggling to come to terms with newer forms of governance. It also puts exigent demands on well established democracies such as those in the West to tacitly intervene lest the model of democracy is debunked again in land Arabica.

What has happened in Egypt is no surprise. Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, came to power through a popular vote after Hosni Mubarak was forcefully ousted by the people who were aided by the Army.

But very soon after taking over reins, it became apparent that Morsi was determined to push the Muslim Brotherhood agenda rather than proving to be a mass leader of the people, many of whom are liberal and secular.

He radicalized state institutions and passed very unpopular constitutional decrees which included providing immunity to himself – the president’s office – from judicial review and preventing constituent assemblies from mid-term dissolution. He also strengthened the Islamic Shura while sacking the prosecutor general.

Journalists, liberals and social workers were hounded even as economic condition deteriorated with power cuts, petrol shortage and sky rocketing food prices.

The situation has become such that the common man on the street feels things were better under Mubarak and that people wouldn’t have minded him back! While the reasons for bitterness with Morsi may be valid, the falling in love with Mubarak all over again just goes to show how fickle public sympathy is.

Egypt is at a very delicate juncture and the dilemmas it faces are several. It can be questioned whether overthrowing a legitimately elected leader is illegitimate? Whether the coup that the military has pulled off by removing Morsi, after issuing him a deadline, is a coup of the variety that is decried and often led by ambitious and power loving Generals? Or whether bringing down Morsi is simply another expression of democracy.

The Army has laid out a post Morsi roadmap. The head of Egypt’s supreme constitutional court Adly Mansour has been sworn-in as the interim president with the promise that soon a "strong and competent" civilian technocratic government would be formed. The Constitution has been suspended and may be rewritten while a national reconciliation committee will be formed to enable an end to instability.

The Army had been invited once to unseat Hosni Mubarak, but the peril with depending on it every time to help restore semblance of normalcy is that Egypt will not be able to emerge from the system of military backed leaders. This would be a U-turn to the past.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must quickly deliver on the promise of getting all parties across the spectrum to participate in elections and these should be held as soon as they are feasible. By arresting the top leadership of Morsi`s government and hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members the Army may not exactly be sending out the right signals.

Going by the scenes on the streets of Cairo one wonders whether calm will return anytime soon. Clashes have broken out between those who ousted Morsi and the supporters of the overthrown president. These are not just political clashes, but an ideological collision between the liberals and Islamists.

Clearly, Egypt would need to fervently and collectively find answers to how it wants to shape its future in terms of political and ideological systems, if at all it wants to be in peace with itself.

Else the grapes of wrath will embitter its experiments with the truth.