The Art of Helping Leaders Put Their Shoes On

Morsi Badie AP.jpg

In 1948 King Farouk was on his way to attend a ceremony marking the start of Ramadan. When the car stopped, the footman sitting next to the driver, tasked with opening the king’s door found that his door handle wasn’t working. He tried to open the door but couldn’t. Several awkward moments had passed since the car had stopped and the king hadn’t gotten out. An officer in the royal guard and a police general were standing next to the car. The general shouted at the young officer: “Open the door for His Majesty.” The officer replied: “You open the door, sir. You’re closer.” The king put an end to the embarrassing situation and opened the door himself.

The officer was quickly the talk of the palace. Everyone was certain he would be dismissed or court-martialled and sent to military prison. The next day, when the officer arrived at the palace, the commander of the guards summoned him. Asked why he refused to open the door, the officer replied, “Sir, I’m an officer in the royal guard and not a footman. My task is to protect the king, not to open doors.”

The commander took the officer to the head chamberlain and left him waiting outside. After a while the commander came out of the office and told him to go back to work without punishing him. There are several lessons to be learned here: Here was a young officer who valued his dignity and refused to be a servant, even to the king. He was prepared to sacrifice his life for him, but refused to open a door for him. The commander of the guards and the head chamberlain fully understood the officer’s insistence on maintaining his dignity and let him go unpunished.

The second incident took place a few days ago, a recording of which was broadcast on Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Issa’s television program. After giving a sermon at a Muslim Brotherhood gathering at a mosque, the organization’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, was preparing to leave. A group of Brotherhood members gathered around him, bowing, and one of them put the supreme guide’s shoes on for him. Badie did not object, and let the young man complete his task. Once done, the young man looked pleased with himself, as though he had received a great honour.

These two incidents portray two conflicting rationales. The young officer believed his loyalty to the king did not outweigh his sense of dignity. On the other hand, the young Brotherhood member was willingly obsequious, unable to understand the difference between loyalty and servility.

The second incident illustrates the Brotherhood’s ethos: it is an organization based on blind obedience. The thousands of young men in the organization are merely tools used to carry out their leader’s wishes. They have no right to object or criticize or even express ideas contrary to the leader’s orders. All Brotherhood members express the same opinions on any subject and take the same position on any incident.

Millions of Egyptians were compelled to vote for a Muslim Brotherhood president, not because they were convinced of his leadership qualities or favoured his ideas, but merely in order to save the revolution from failing, and to prevent the return of the old regime through Ahmed Shafik,. This elected president has spent his whole life within the Muslim Brotherhood, so is it not our right to ask him whether or not he approves of a young man helping the supreme guide put his shoes on? And if he approves, then what does dignity mean in the president’s opinion?

Three facts have emerged, as Morsi’s first 100 days in office have come to a close:

First, the president is a man who doesn’t keep his promises. He promised he would restructure the constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, and form a more balanced body that reflects all factions of society. The president also promised to look after those injured in the revolution, avenge those killed, and to release all those detained, along with many other promises, none of which he has fulfilled.

Second: President Morsi has no more political vision than Hosni Mubarak possessed. He has done nothing to bring about real change in the structure of the Mubarak regime. He appointed remnants of the previous regime as ministers and retained Interior Ministry generals responsible for killing and torturing thousands of Egyptians. Like Mubarak, he is biased in favour of the rich against the poor and is negotiating an International Monetary Fund loan without informing Egyptians of its terms, just as Mubarak did. He appointed a Muslim Brotherhood member as information minister to suppress the opposition and took control of state-owned press through the Shura Council, which appointed editors supportive of the Brotherhood. President Morsi allowed Egyptians to be tried and imprisoned for insulting the president, an imaginary and perverse charge that does not exist in any other self-respecting country, while he has left Egyptians to be insulted at home and abroad, as did Mubarak. It looks as if, after the revolution, we have replaced President Mubarak with President Morsi with no change in ideas or policies.

Third: President Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secretive organization outside the law, with its finances and operations a mystery. We have a right to ask whether or not President Morsi takes state decisions without reference to the wishes of the supreme guide. There are many worrying indicators that answer this question – leading Brotherhood figure Khairat el-Shater meets foreign government officials to discuss joint projects with Egypt. No one asks him in what capacity he is negotiating in the name of Egypt when he has no official position that gives him authority to do so.  When President Morsi dismissed Field Marshal Tantawi and General Sami Anan (his only achievement so far), Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian said: “The president took the decision to dismiss them without the agreement of the supreme guide, who was in retreat at the end of Ramadan.” That simply means that if the guide had not been in retreat then he would have had a say in a political decision of this importance, and he may have agreed or disagreed. Would President Morsi have then been able to go against the orders of the supreme guide? President Morsi has a duty to force the Muslim Brotherhood to bring itself in line with the law and to disclose its sources of financing immediately.

After a revolution, the price for which was paid in blood and for which thousands were killed, the Egyptian people will not allow their human rights to be ignored, though those rights are now being trampled under Brotherhood rule just as they were under Mubarak’s rule. The revolution will continue until its objectives are accomplished.

Democracy is the solution.             

Alaa Al Aswany, the Arab world’s bestselling novelist, is the author of The Yacoubian Building, Chicago, and Friendly Fire.     

Photo Credit: AP       

This article is an abridged version of an Arabic article published in Al Masry Al Youm    

Image: Morsi%20Badie%20AP.jpg