Land of the Pharaohs, But Not of Democracy – RantAWeek

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Land of the Pharaohs, But Not of Democracy

Posted by Tyler Miksanek on July 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

The Great Pyramids at Giza still stand as testaments to Ancient Egypt’s role as a foundation for civilization. However, the foundation for democracy in modern Egypt appears unstable.
Picture Source: CIA World Factbook

Ever since the autocratic Hosni Mubarak was forced out of the presidency in 2011, political instability in Egypt has been as predictable as the annual flooding of the Nile River.  Mubarak’s ouster led to a period of military rule, and promises of a quick transition to democracy faded as the military clung to power for more than a year.  But then, in what appeared to be a sign of progress, Egypt successfully conducted it’s first democratic presidential elections in 2012, choosing Muhammed Morsi to be the country’s new leader.

Unfortunately, a successful election does not guarantee a successful presidency, and Morsi faced an uphill battle from the start.  Even after Morsi took office, the Egyptian army attempted to maintain control of the country, going as far as demanding that the newly elected Parliament be disbanded.  Morsi’s first few months were essentially a power struggle against army leaders, but since still Egypt lacked a Constitution, he had little legal legitimacy in his actions to wrest control from the army.

Morsi’s government managed to create a new Constitution, but many in Egypt were angered by his attempts to include Islamic law into the Egyptian legal code.  Morsi originally ran as a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, but his polarizing choices as president (often involving religious issues) began to hurt his popularity and led to fears that he would be no better than Mubarak.  Having only won 52% of the vote when he was originally elected, Morsi began to see a swift decline in his popularity after taking office.  Persistently high levels of both unemployment and inflation also hurt his public perception.

Simply put, Morsi’s first year in office was far from the return to normalcy and stability many Egyptians had hoped for, and the first anniversary of his inauguration sparked renewed protests in the streets.  These protests quickly became violent, prompting the still-powerful army to give Morsi an ultimatum.  Either Morsi would give some concessions to his opponents or the army would force him from office.  The result of this ultimatum has been front page news – Morsi refused to give in, and the army followed through on its threat, reclaiming political power for itself.

This means that, for now, the future of Egyptian democracy is in the hands of army generals.  Considering their reluctance to cede any authority the last time they were in power, Egypt may be wise to expect a long period before any elections are held.  However, the army justified their most recent takeover as being in the interests of the populace, who were increasingly against Morsi’s policies.  If the army feels they are now working as an agent of the people, they might be more inclined to promote a democratic transition than they were back in 2011 and 2012, when they appeared reluctant to hand over power.

Of course, given the army’s record, optimism about their willingness to promote democracy should be kept to a minimum.  And even if the army is willing to hold elections and cede authority to the victor, Egypt still faces polarizing political divisions that it must come to terms with.  Mubarak’s old autocratic government would often simply ignore dissenting opinions, but if Egypt wants to be a democracy, it must find a way to bridge the gap between supporters of secularism and Islamism as well as determine how powerful the nation’s executive should be.  Morsi’s actions in regard to both of these issues led to the public discontent that eventually forced him from office, and any new chief executive would be wise to learn from Morsi’s mistakes.

Muhammed Morsi was a controversial and divisive figure in Egypt.  But by ending his rule, Egypt’s army has created fertile ground for more controversy and division before Egypt can finally have a chance to reach the stability it has so desperately been seeking.


For another article that explains the underlying problems Arab Spring revolutions have faced, read “The Revolution Paradox“, which applies historical examples to modern revolutions.

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