Monday 15 July 2013

A Note On Recent Western Punditry On Egypt

Morsi proclaiming that one year was enough for his patience
 with the media and opposing figures

There is certainly a lot of writing coming out on Egypt these days from around the world. A lot of it is brilliant, thought-provoking work, and some of it often provides an outside perspective that those who remain inside the country or are entirely focused on it could sometimes lose. But, on the other hand, a substantial portion of it suffers.

More specifically, there are often way too many generalisations, rushing to sensationalist conclusions, much over-simplification, too many attempts at comparing Egypt to Pakistan or other countries, at times a desire for content-destroying political correctness (that we all suffer from at times), generalist knowledge by some commentators of the Egyptian situation that lacks some modicum of fuller cognition of its details and complications, and more. Egypt appears to increasingly be its own complex experiment and model, and even many of us who literally do nothing but write on Egypt find many of its developments to be baffling. Egypt is not a straightforward country by any means possible. 

Example of such writing? Almost all the "End Of Political Islam"-proclaiming articles. But my main concern here is the increasing apologist, politically correct and somewhat whitewashing tone recently apparent in writings on Morsi and the Brotherhood. I have consistently, and up to June 30th, argued that reconciliation was the only path for Egypt, and saw that it was best - all things considered - that Morsi stayed in power, rebuilt his legitimacy and created a new national political contract everyone could accept. I still believe in reconciliation and inclusiveness. And there is indeed much to criticise about the state of Egypt right now. Such list includes: the unbalanced and unprofessional approach of the media to the current situation and the suspension of all pro-Morsi outlets. Morsi’s continued detention is a cause for deep concern. The list also includes the ultra-polarised and often vile political environment and discourse that exists, coupled with a mutual complete demonisation of the other. It also includes the apparent witch hunt against the Brotherhood and the dwindling reconciliation and inclusiveness prospects. Some of the details of Military's roadmap come to mind as well. The actions of the NSF, now and before, surely make an appearance on the list. The tragic loss of lives from the Republican Guard debacle is unforgettable. And more. And for many, the resilience of the Brotherhood and its few remaining allies is quite impressive to be sure.

But that does not mean that Morsi’s presidency should suddenly be whitewashed or his (and the Brotherhood's) mistakes or transgressions be downsized. As far as I'm concerned and as I enumerated in more detail recently, I believe (as mindful of my biases, and of the challenges posed by the deep state against Morsi, as I can be) Morsi had swiftly stabbed his claims to “legitimacy” since November when he issued the disastrous decree, that he had no power to issue in the first place, putting himself entirely above the law and the existing constitutional framework (he only rescinded it after having achieved its purposes, and while keeping all effects obtained through it.) Morsi followed that by a reckless detonation of the constitution-drafting process and the denial of Egypt of the chance to have a  respected political framework everyone can unite around (Egypt's Opposition did not recognise the new constitution, at least as it stood, and with some fair reason). Since then, and instead of attempting to rebuild his legitimacy, Morsi and the Brotherhood embarked on an aggressive power grab that even alienated his former Islamist allies and turned his former revolutionary coalition against him, violated the separation of powers, used intimidation (legal and beyond, mostly through allies) against the private media and the opposition, created a deformed and widely-denounced MB-dominated ersatz full legislative entity in the Shura Council, among many other things (click her for a longer, but definitely incomplete, list). His last act of power before June 30th was a two-and-a-half hour speech in which he was bluntly promising that "one year was enough" of his patience with the supposed transgressions by opposing figures and the media (even cartoonishly naming names on air) and that he was planning firm measures against them, which was followed the  day after by preliminary measures including removing opposition channels from the management board overseeing the (media) free zone, putting an opposition TV network owner on a no-fly list all of a sudden for alleged tax problems that just happened to matter before June 30, and sacking the head of a state-owned conference centre the opposition used. All of this is setting aside utter ineptitude in managing the state, a unanimously denounced government (even by the Brotherhood and the FJP!), hate speech and incitement used by his supporting media (in some ways being channeled now by a somewhat vengeful private media), and more. I genuinely believe that Morsi's legitimacy by the time of the June 30 uprising (and even, more controversially, much of that of the constitutional framework he spearheaded)  should at least not be treated as a firm given in any debate. Some will come back with arguments along the lines of "the deep state and the politicised judiciary required some unorthodox responses", and they'd be substantially mistaken. It essentially required maintaining the unity of the revolutionary front along sensible lines and compromises, the same unity that got Morsi barely elected. 

Commentators have all the right in the world to be strong in the criticism and worry of what is happening in Egypt right now, including the role of the army in this entire process, the potential implications of  the suspension of a constitutional framework, the possible return of much of the former regime and the police state, and the vengefulness of much of the state and media against Morsi and the MB. But downsizing what Morsi has done in his year in power, the destructive impact his presidency has had on Egypt's transition towards a proper political and constitutional base (and on the condition of Egypt itself), the derailment of the January Revolution and its division, all this downsizing has a dangerous effect on the fullness and value of the current conversation and debate. The pro-Morsi rally can be admired for its steadfastness, patience, unity and even courage. But the claims sounded from its stage of defending democracy, legitimacy and protecting the January Revolution have a difficult ttime registering. 

Of course, feel free to disagree, and I certainly do not claim to have ownership of the truth.

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