Morsi: Doomed to Repeat Mubarak’s Mistakes?

Mohamed Morsi.jpg

In a press conference addressing a room full of journalists, Vice President Mahmoud Makki used the expression "survival of the fittest" to describe the current state of Egypt’s political affairs. What the journalists listening to him didn’t know was that as Makki spoke, a group of pro-Morsi supporters had descended upon the anti-Morsi sit-in taking place in front of the presidential palace. Tents were ripped down, and cans of beans and packets of processed cheese were waved before cameras as though they were evidence of high treason. The bizarre scene would soon devolve into nightlong clashes that left six dead and over 450 injured.

While the clashes have subsided, protests against the president continue, with the same chants that were first heard almost two years ago, used once again. Then, the chants were addressed to the now-deposed Hosni Mubarak and his regime. Now, the same words are addressed to “Morsi Mubarak” and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The parallels with the January uprising and subsequent protests against the military council are eerily similar, but with notable differences. No longer is Tahrir Square the backdrop of the violence, as the clashes that so often took place in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and downtown Cairo have found a new home in Heliopolis. The participants have also changed. No longer are there uniformed policemen directly involved in the fray. Now, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish one side from the other as pro and anti-Morsi protesters – all Egyptian civilians – clash. Both sides accuse the other of possessing arms, of firing tear gas, of causing more harm than the other, and both sides claim “ownership” of the martyrs.

It is without the slightest shred of irony that the Brotherhood criticizes the opposition, saying that they have joined forces with the felool and have betrayed Egypt’s revolution, while Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party employs similar rhetoric and tactics as that very same regime. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) smear campaign against anti-Morsi protesters mirrors the smear campaign seen on Mubarak’s state TV. Protesters are referred to as armed thugs and as counter-revolutionary, as accusations of impropriety during sit-ins are made on late night talk shows. Videos which appear to show pro-Morsi supporters bearing arms are played on TV as FJP members deny the use of any violence, much as SCAF did in efforts to claim innocence in the death of 27 protesters at Maspero on October 9th.

Morsi himself seems to be emulating Mubarak in the worst of ways. His silence over the last 72 hours is identical to that of Mubarak. As protests in Tahrir raged, Mubarak stayed silent, only to eventually address the nation and make matters worse. Each instance during which Egypt waited for Mubarak to speak to them, the opposition’s demands grew. Under Morsi, the opposition initially made three demands: for the president to rescind his decree, for the constitutional referendum to be scrapped, and a new constituent assembly to be formed. With the escalation of violence the opposition has made statements that imply that Morsi’s legitimacy “hangs by a thread.”

Finally appearing on state TV late on Thursday night, like Mubarak, Morsi spoke of a conspiracy involving a hidden third party, and of paid infiltrators inciting violence during protests. He made implicit threats of a crackdown on “thugs and criminals”, employing similar rhetoric as the FJP. He justified his November 22 Constitutional Declaration as a means of protecting Egypt from the dangers that threaten it. Any concessions Morsi made were transparent and did not come close to addressing the opposition’s core demands. Regarding his November 22 decree, the only concession he made was to offer to rescind the controversial Article 6, “if agreed upon through dialogue.” The rest of his concessions depend entirely on a referendum that rejects the constitutional draft. In a country where, historically, the ‘Yes’ vote always wins, Morsi appears to be not only repeating history through his actions, but banking on history repeating itself through the polls. If the draft does not pass, Morsi offered to reform a constituent assembly, either by consensus or by a vote.

While Morsi appears not to have learned anything from the past two years, the same could be said of the opposition. While the National Salvation Front is the first hint of unity among the non-Islamist movements, they continue to make the same mistakes they have made in the past. They question Morsi’s legitimacy, but offer no alternative, and their clear list of initial demands risks becoming lost, if they venture down a path that brings Morsi’s presidency into question. This path will likely only result in more violence. And while Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh has a similar list of demands as the National Salvation Front, he stands apart from Mohamed ElBaradie, Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahy and other prominent political figures – presenting more evidence of a fractured opposition.

Pro- and anti-Morsi activists continue to trade accusations over Wednesday’s violence. In January 2011, the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of Mubarak and his Interior Ministry. Violence during the transitional period, under SCAF’s leadership was also blamed on the ruling military. Today is no different. The violence, and its containment, is the responsibility of the president. At the end of the day, December 2012 is no different from November 2011 or January 2011. With the violence taking place at his very doorstep, the ultimate responsibility lays with the president of the nation. Silence is no longer an option. Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, when he eventually addresses the nation, must demonstrate how he differs from Egypt’s thirty year dictator. Failure to do so will only lead Egypt further down a chaotic path, one in which the Egyptian people themselves pay the price for power.

If there is one positive constant, it is seen in the revolutionary spirit of the Egyptian people. Since the January uprising, the revolutionary movements around the country, the nation’s media, and the ordinary citizens have changed. Toppling Hosni Mubarak broke a barrier of fear that will not be put back in place by another dictatorial leader. If last night does nothing else, it proves that while the political factions are caught in a vicious cycle of their own making, the Egyptian people are far ahead of the political curve.

Nancy Messieh is the associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource, a blog following Egypt’s transition.

Photo: AP

Image: Mohamed%20Morsi.jpg