Egypt in political cliffhanger

By ZRG | Last Updated: Jul 05, 2013, 20:46 PM IST

Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group

Egypt’s politics is in flux ever since the January 2011 uprising when Hosni Mubarak was ousted. Wednesday’s soft coup leading to the exit of Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military and swearing in of constitutional court justice Adli Mansour as interim president implies the Arab nation will undergo yet another constitutional process suggesting greater political uncertainty ahead.

The military has suspended the Constitution which was approved in a referendum just half a year ago under the Morsi-led Muslim Brotherhood regime. In a televised address, while General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has provided a roadmap for restoration of democracy and review of the Constitution in the next one year, the moot question, however, is: can Egypt become a stable and secular democracy?

To begin with, Morsi’s one-year rule of Egypt was hardly ideal. The Egyptian uprising of 2011 rallied people to overthrow a tyrant to establish a new constitutional order based on democratic principles which will serve the interests of the entire society. But, opponents accused Morsi of failing the revolution by concentrating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood – a hard-line Islamist organisation professing political Islam. The Constitution-making process was dominated by Islamist hardliners which further alienated liberals and religious minorities. While the referendum which approved the new Constitution got around 70 per cent of votes, the turnout in the process was not even fifty per cent.

To make matters worse, Morsi`s stewardship of the Egyptian economy failed to resurrect it. Unemployment is a huge problem with nearly a quarter of the work force without jobs. The country owes billions of dollars in debt. Egypt’s foreign currency reserves dwindled from $36 billion before the uprising to $16 billion in May 2013. In March, it had reached a low of $13.4 billion. Roughly half the population survives on less than $2 a day. The budget deficit has reached over 11 per cent of GDP from 8.3 per cent before the uprising. In May, the country’s long-term credit rating was downgraded from B- to CCC+.

Despite all the above, the military coming out of barracks in support of anti-Morsi protestors sets a bad precedent. By first issuing an ultimatum to an elected president to obey to its diktats or resign, and then deposing Morsi and suspending the Constitution, the Army has become the ultimate arbiter of popular will. In the long run, however, the Army intervention is harmful for a democratic polity. Examples from Chile, Pakistan, and Brazil show Army intervention has only produced despair for the population.

Tarekh Fateh, an anti-Islamist activist, suggests that Army intervention will give a fresh lease of life to hardliners. “I am amazed at the people rejoicing the military coup in Egypt. Democracy never comes riding on the back of a tank. This coup will give the Muslim Brotherhood another 100 years of life. Democracy is not about being in power. It’s also about respecting one’s enemy and their right to govern, no matter how mean-spirited they may be. Egyptian liberals could not wait for another three years in the opposition?” Fateh wrote on his Facebook wall on Thursday.

It is definitely not the end of struggle between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood. For now, the Army has got an upper hand. But, the Brotherhood still commands the support a quarter of Egyptian population. It must dawn upon the Brotherhood that an exclusivist Islamist approach to govern Egypt won’t work. Morsi narrowly won the Presidency by 51 per cent of the vote because he managed to persuade many secular and non-Islamist sections of the society. He couldn’t have won 51 per cent with just Brotherhood’s base alone. In future, they must reform and strengthen democratic process rather than behave like authoritarian parties.

What is India’s position on the current situation in Egypt? India is closely monitoring the evolving situation and is in favour of using dialogue rather than force to solve the crisis.

“We are closely monitoring the evolving situation in Egypt. India urges all political forces to abjure violence, exercise restraint, respect democratic principles and the rule of law and engage in a conciliatory dialogue to address the present situation. We have about 3000 Indian nationals in Egypt. In addition, we also have about 50 Indian companies in Egypt. Our Embassy in Cairo is in active and regular contact with all sections of the Indian community with the objective of ensuring their welfare,” a Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said.