Editorial: Morsi’s anniversary

Morsi’s future now depends on a wildcard: The reaction of the military. The president, like Mubarak before him, is completely dependent on the military.

June 30, 2013 22:24
3 minute read.
Protesters opposing Egytian President Morsi in Tahrir Square Cairo, June 30, 2013

Tahrir Square protests370. (photo credit: Reuters)

It was no way to celebrate the first anniversary of the inauguration of Egypt’s first democratically elected president. A state of collective anxiety gripped Egypt as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand that President Mohamed Morsi step down.

Even before the June 30 date marking Morsi’s year in office, clashes turned violent between pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated crowds and a mostly non- Islamist coalition of disgruntled Egyptians with little in common and no concrete game plan beyond a consensus that Morsi must go.

Admittedly, Morsi has made major mistakes. He did little to heal a nation wounded and fragile after the traumatic revolt that deposed Hosni Mubarak, brought to an end decades of autocratic rule, and set the most populous Arab nation on the road to a quasi-democratic era.

Instead of building bridges, Morsi sowed dissent with his heavy-handed methods. He rammed through the 100-member Constituent Assembly – hopelessly stacked with Brotherhood cadres and their Salafist allies – a controversial constitution that alienated non-Islamists while shamelessly and undemocratically ignoring the demand by the judiciary to dissolve the assembly.

And Morsi’s failure to build a more inclusive political consensus has exacerbated an already debilitated economy that is precariously propped up by aid from Gulf states and the US. Unrest has scared away foreign tourists and investment.

Morsi’s future now depends on a wildcard: The reaction of the military. The president, like Mubarak before him, is completely dependent on the military. Unlike, Mubarak, Morsi does not enjoy a close relationship with the army, though he has managed to oust some of his leading military rivals.

Mubarak’s good relationship with the generals did not save him. Still, Egypt’s Defense Minister Abdel al-Sisi, who said the army would intervene if violence becomes unbearable, realizes the implications of allowing an elected president to be shoved aside. At any rate, Morsi’s position one year after inauguration appears as precarious as was Mubarak’s shortly before his ouster.

The loosening of the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on Egypt could be a positive development for Israel. It is, after all, no secret that the Brotherhood’s ideology is antagonistic to the very idea of a Jewish state. The rise of non-Islamic forces within Egypt could, in theory, have a moderating effect on Cairo’s position vis-à-vis Israel.

It is too early to predict the outcome of the unrest.

What seems certain is that the instability of the Morsi government, which is showing no signs of recuperating anytime soon, will be exploited by Beduin and Salafist groups operating in an already lawless Sinai.

Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, when both Egypt and Israel sealed their respective borders with the Strip, an elaborate system of cross-border tunnels was dug that created a lucrative industry and a class of armed semi-criminal Beduin kingpins.

Caught in the crossfire between Beduin and Salafists, Egyptian security forces are regularly outgunned. One checkpoint near the Gaza border has been attacked 39 times since February 2011. Just over a month ago, the Egyptian government was embarrassed by the kidnapping of seven of its soldiers.

Anarchy in Sinai could mean trouble for Israel.

Though the security fence being completed along the Egyptian border partially remedies the situation, Salafists could easily fire Grad rockets at, say, Eilat such as the ones launched in April by the Islamist terrorist group Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin, which it said was in retaliation for an Israeli crackdown on Palestinians demonstrating for the release of terrorists in Israeli prisons.

Under Mubarak, the region was largely neglected.

But the 2011 revolution destabilized an already shaky security situation further as groups of Islamic gunmen proliferated. Now a further deterioration in the stability of the central Egyptian government will mean even less control over Sinai.

Whether Morsi weathers the storm or is replaced, issues such as the price of gas and bread and the protection of basic human rights will be the focus of Egyptians’ attention – not the worrying situation in Sinai.

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