Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Change of Reign in Egypt: Mohammed Morsi Becomes Country’s First Democratically Elected President

Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leader Mohammed Morsi has won the presidential election runoff, defeating the independent candidate Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister to the deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, with 13.2 million votes out of 26 million, a share of 51.2 per cent on a turnout of just over 50 per cent.

However, the outcome of the election does not settle the standoff between the Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which did not even wait for the result before taking a series of steps which some Egyptians have called a constitutional obscenity. One crucial move was made by the constitutional court, made up of judges from the time of Mubarak, which unilaterally dissolved the national parliament. That body – elected between November 2011 and March 2012 in Egypt’s first-ever free polls – was to write a constitution for the new state.

Armed Forces’ Tradition Broken
Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi will not enjoy the extent of modern, pharaonic powers exercised by Mubarak: those have been curtailed by a military establishment which will decide just how much he will be able to do in government.

Still, the US-trained engineer's victory in the country's first free presidential election breaks a tradition of domination by men from the armed forces, which have provided every Egyptian leader since overthrow of the monarchy 60 years ago, and installs in office a group that drew on 84 years of grassroots activism to catapult Morsi into presidency.

First Civilian Head of State
An engineer turned politician, Mohammed Morsi has come a long way to become the first freely elected President of Egypt that saw its strongman Hosni Mubarak being ousted in what is now famously called Arab Spring. Although, not their first choice as a presidential candidate, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood threw its weight behind Morsi, 60, the chairman of its FJP. A champion of Brotherhood's famous slogan - "Islam is the solution" - Morsi describes its policies as having "a moderate Islamic reference". A more quietly-spoken man, Morsi got the support of Brotherhood's grassroots network and what is often referred to as an highly organized campaign team.

Morsi’s win in an election widely seen as free and fair suggests that the 84-year-old Islamist group — which began as a secret outfit, often resorted to violence and was continually suppressed and driven underground — remains Egypt’s most influential party, drawing its support from all corners of society.

On the one hand he has been directly chosen by the people, but on the other there are fears that his regime may sooner than later push the country to a hard line form of Islamic rule. Since it is too early to speculate with any amount of certainty, it is better to simply use the material at hand and peep into the possibilities ahead.

To begin with, Morsi is Egypt’s first democratically elected President — and that fact needs to be heartily endorsed. He is also his country’s first civilian president, and thus his election presents a strong break from the past where men in uniform imposed themselves on the nation as its rulers. This again should not be a cause of concern for New Delhi because it will now have to deal with elected representatives rather than military generals. Of course, India never seemed to have had much of a problem with the earlier Hosni Mubarak Government, but that regime is now history and the former has to now do business with a new set of people that has a popular mandate at least.

New Prez’s Manifesto
Morsi has promised a moderate, modern Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era where autocracy will be replaced by transparent government that respects human rights and revives the fortunes of a powerful Arab state long in decline. He is promising an "Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation."

Yet the stocky, bespectacled 60-year old, appears something of an accidental president: he was only flung into the race at the last moment by the disqualification on a technicality of Khairat al-Shater, by far the group's preferred choice.

With a stiff and formal style, Morsi, who has a doctorate from the University of Southern California, cast himself as a reluctant late comer to the race, who cited religious fear of judgment day as one of his reasons for running. He struggled to shake off his label as the Brotherhood's "spare tire."

However, questions remain over the extent to which Morsi will operate independently of other Brotherhood leaders once in office: his manifesto was drawn up by the group's policymakers. The role Shater might play has been one focus of debate in Egypt.

Undoubtedly, the historic nature of the win can hardly be underestimated. Given Egypt’s size, historical importance and cultural and political preeminence in the Arabic-speaking world, it is not unlikely that an Islamist democracy advocated by the FJP, the Brotherhood’s political wing that Morsi led to a signal victory, can potentially become a model for West Asia and North Africa.

Future Equation
The FJP has been issuing statements that it proposes to offer a liberal regime and honor past accords and agreements. Morsi is also reported to have emphasized over and over again that he would ensure that international commitments agreed on are not dismantled. This is good news, but the challenge for the new president will be to implement his promise in the face of pressures that he is certainly going to face from hard line factions within his party and others as well to chart a new and probably more confrontationist course of action.

The victory of the Islamists, whose offshoot HAMAS rules in Gaza Strip (also having got there through an election), cannot but be bad news for Israel, which has operated a peace agreement with Egypt’s military rulers since the days of Anwar Sadat, and whose political position has defined the conflict in the region for 60 years.

For the millions of Egyptians who endured savage repression for decades and then brutal violence when they rose against the erstwhile dictatorship in 2011, the democratic election of a president is a major step forward.

Indications of the past days are that Morsi will use moderate Islam as a reference in framing his policies. He can do otherwise only at the cost of alienating Egypt’s existing and potential allies across the world and destabilizing the uneasy peace that exists between the Arab world and Israel.

1 comment:

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