The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

Even taking into account lackluster performance, one of the features of political life in the past year has been a relentless media machine demonizing and delegitimizing the Morsi administration far beyond its self-inflicted damage. Anyone watching CBC, ONTV, al-Qahira wal-Nas and other satellite stations, or reading hysterical newspapers like al-Destour, al-Watan or al-Tahrir (and increasingly al-Masri al-Youm) has been fed a steady diet of anti-Morsi propaganda and agitprop. Some attacks he deserved, but follow even a respected journalist like Ibrahim Eissa (once a leading opponent of Hosni Mubarak) and the discourse about Morsi was out of control. In the video below, Eissa not only attacks Morsi, but the entire transition process of the last two years.

 

And indeed, the attacks on Morsi have led — perhaps necessitated — an attack on the the events that led to his becoming president. The presidential election once accepted by many as fair — or fair enough — is now routinely in doubt. This has been the work of not only rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq's claims (now being considered by the courts) that mass fraud took place with a Brotherhood cell at the National Printing House printing pre-filled ballots, but also increased media speculation about Morsi's victory being the result of a negotiation between the MB and SCAF head Tantawy. There has been no need to prove any of this, just repeat ad nauseum a narrative that has some plausibility (after all there were MB-army deals) and its into the emergent sentiment of buyers' remorse many reluctant Morsi voters feel. There is now routine doubt expressed about that election — which was objectively flawed enough and so badly prepared that there it is easy sow doubt. (As readers of the blog will know, I have considered the entire transition process and its elections in particular a disgrace for how badly they were planned for and advocated their postponement.)

Or, as another example, look at the recent anti-MB campaign that has sought to paint them as aided by Hamas during the anti-Mubarak uprising and that accuses them of having used hired hands (Hamas or otherwise) to break out MB leaders, including Morsi, out of prison? Despite the fact that they were imprisoned unfairly, without charges? Such narratives flooded much of the independent media, with the presidency and the MB being able to little about it. And much of it came from TV talk show hosts such as Lamiss al-Hadidi and Amr El-Dib who were close Mubarak media collaborators (the former was his 2005 campaign spokesperson, for instance). When Morsi mentioned in his speech the hands of the former regime in the media, in other words, he was quite right. But he proved unable to do much about it — particularly as he alienated all of his possible defenders outside of Islamist circles. 

This campaign of delegitimization is one reason June 30 is able to happen. And I suspect this abuse of media (with all of the questions it raises about the limits of media freedom) will leave the Egyptian media scene with problems (starting with credibility and professionalism) for years to come.  

Update: I should add that according to press reports, the owners of several private satellite stations have just been excluded from Media Production City (the state production facility that regulates satellite media and provides the linkup to Egypt's NileSat satellites) and that media mogul Mohamed al-Amin (owner of CBC and al-Watan newspaper) is being investigated for tax fraud, while the entire family of Dream owner and media mogul Ahmed Bahgat is reported to have fled the country.