Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood have “largely gotten a pass” from Western media and analysts, despite recent actions against independent media and critics that call into question their democratic commitment, a leading analyst suggests.
Pro-democracy Egyptian intellectuals, artists, writers and politicians recently rallied in downtown Cairo to call for reform in the constitution drafting process and protest the Islamists’ actions against freedom of expression.
Independent labor union activists this week complained that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is pressuring workers at the Nile Spinning and Weaving Company to end a strike against the dismissal of 34 colleagues, according to the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.
The Brotherhood’s Morsi is also coming under pressure for failing to address deteriorating services and growing power outages that disproportionately impact the country’s poorest. The president was accused of callousness for calling on people to simply reduce their use of electricity.
“Statements like ‘decrease your electricity usage’ could have been said by anyone — a bawab [doorman] or any man on the street,” said Hisham Kassem, a prominent journalist and rights advocate.
“It might not be his responsibility, but Morsi could have handled it much better,” he said. “We’re forced to give him a chance, but it seems there is no room for improvement.”
Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party “have largely gotten a pass” from Western commentators following a series of “questionable moves that raise concerns about the Brothers’ commitment to democratic change,” writesSteven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:
To be sure, former Bush (41), Clinton, and Obama Middle East hand, Dennis Ross, published a critical op-ed in the Washington Post and his colleague, Eric Trager, did the same in the Wall Street Journal, but these were the exception rather than the rule. …..There are three reasons why the Brotherhood’s illiberal inclinations are met with a collective shrug:
First, some observers and partisans have argued that it is still early, that Morsi has only been in power for two months, and that upon assuming office he was confronted with powerful forces opposed to his presidency. In an-ends-justify-the-means type of argument, if Morsi needs to resort to legal, but non-democratic measures to secure his rule and thus the prospects for democracy, so be it……
The problem with this argument is, of course, we do not know that Morsi and his colleagues intend to build a democratic system. …… Inherently anti-democratic acts like prosecuting editors and shutting down televisions stations—no matter how distasteful—simply do not advance the cause of freedom.
Second, President Morsi and the Brothers have credibility [because] they shared the generally conservative values of Egypt’s vast center.
Third, primarily Western analysts and a good chunk of the American foreign policy establishment have come to believe that the Brothers can be a genuine force for progressive political change. This conclusion is based on an alleged evolution of the Brotherhood that is reflected in its discourse about reform and democratic change. ….
As I have written before, much of this is based on hunches, wishful thinking, or historical analogies that are interesting but are hardly predictive of the Brotherhood’s political trajectory. Still, if the reception that the Freedom and Justice Party received in Washington last March is any indication, these arguments hold sway and insulate Morsi and the Brotherhood from the widespread denunciation they deserve when they pursue non-democratic policies……It has become a cliché, but what the Brothers do is more important than what they say.
The Project on Middle East Democracy adds:
Opposition Forces Slam Presidential Team Composition
A number of prominent liberal political figures decried the lack of opposition forces represented in the president’s team of advisors and assistants. Activist George Isaac told reporters that the opposition was bypassed in the formation of the presidential team and Ayman Nour, head of the Ghad Al Thawra Party said that half of those appointed come from the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi parties with the other half being technocrats. Hussein Mansour, a leader in the Wafd Party said that many of the President’s advisors and assistants are not overt members of Islamic parties but nonetheless are aligned with its philosophy and will likely side with Morsi. Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian scholar and writer, defended his decision to accept a position on the presidential team denying that his presence is merely symbolic. Leftist activists Wael Khalil and Ahmed Maher turned down positions on the presidential team.
“Coptic Christian defends accepting role on Egypt presidential advisory team,” Ahram Online (English) 8/28/2012. “Political parties attack formation of presidential team,” Al Shorouk (Arabic) 8/29/2012. “Islamist domination of presidential team stirs reservations,” Egypt Independent (English) 8/28/2012.
Constituent Assembly to Decide on Sharia Article
Members of the Constituent Assembly will vote to decide on the status of a controversial article in Egypt’s constitution that deals with Sharia, according to a member of the body. Article two of the 1971 constitution, which states that the “principles” of Sharia are the main source of the country’s legislation, has been the subject of fierce debate between secularists and Islamists who insist that the word “principles” be removed. Salah Abdel Maboud, a member of the Constituent Assembly and the Salafi Nour Party, said the issue will be resolved by a vote in the body’s general assembly. Meanwhile, Ayman Nour, leader of the Ghad al-Thawra Party said on Wednesday that the issue was resolved and the 1971 article would remain unchanged. Abdel Maboud told reporters that members of the Assembly agreed on another sticking point when it was decided that the president would have the authority to declare war only after consulting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the National Defense Council and with the approval of Egypt’s representatives. Meanwhile, Information Minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud said that he would launch a campaign called “know your constitution” aimed at familiarizing Egyptians with its articles and soliciting feedback on the document.
Sources “Awareness campaign to familiarize people with coming constitution,” Egypt Independent (English) 8/28/2012 “Constituent Assembly to vote on sharia in Egyptian constitution,” Ahram Online (English) 8/28/2012. “Constituent Assembly to resolve Article two with vote in general assembly,” Al Dostour Al Asly (Arabic) 8/28/2012. “Member of the Constituent Assembly: The president will declare war after consulting the army and Defense Council,” Al Shorouk (Arabic) 8/29/2012. “Ayman Nour announces agreement to keep current text of Article two,” Al Shorouk (Arabic) 8/29/2012.
*The Project on Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.