Many have asked me of the potential repercussions of the death of the man universally described as Egypt’s first democratically elected president. I suspect they were somewhat baffled when I answered “very little”.
Collapsing in the courtroom during his trial was undoubtedly dramatic; and will most likely focus the attention on the plight of prisoners in Egyptian jails. The Muslim Brotherhood – or whatever left of it — will try to make the most of his death to embarrass the regime of President ElSisi. But I doubt if they will get far, because the powers that matter – the US or the EU – have so much else to worry about. (A bizarre thing though for a fundamentalist organization that has done so much to demonise the infidel West and portray it as an evil power constantly conspiring to destroy Islam)
But there’s another reason. Mursi was a president for only one, and a very difficult, year.
Perhaps more importantly, Mursi was in fact an accidental president. He was a second tier Muslim Brotherhood apparatchik who was chosen to contest the election only after the group’s preferred candidate– the deputy supreme guide, Khayrat Al Shatir – was disqualified from running on a legal technicality. That earned Mr Mursi the nickname : the spare tire candidate back in 2012. The perception that he wasn’t really the man in charge was further reinforced during his brief time as president.
As his turbulent and disastrous year in office unfolded, it became clear that Mursi was the wrong man at the right time.
Egypt had just thrown off the yoke of Mubarak’s police state — or so it seemed. There was a unique opportunity to break from the shackles of authoritarianism — not to be replaced by a regime that will monitor and control the lives of everyone in the name of religion, which is what Mr Mursi’s Islamism is all about. Not to mention of course that the country’s Coptic Christian minority – some 10% of the one-hundred million – will not have any of that.
Instead of seizing that opportunity, and rising above the Brotherhood’s regressive ideology, realizing that this was a truly historic moment that required vision and not the straitjacket of the MB; instead of reaching out to the whole of Egypt, he remained in lock step with the mother ship. In fact, few believed he was the man running the show and that real power was in the hands of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Office – some kind of a Politburo — and in particular strongman Khayrat Al-Shatir.
This quickly alienated the non-Islamists who’d voted for him, and were crucial in tipping the tight-vote in his favour. He won by only some 3% over his rival, the candidate of the old regime, former air force chief Ahmad Shafiq. These voters were promised he would be a president for all, and not just his Islamist constituency.
The resentment rapidly grew and eventually paved the way for his speedy demise — tens of thousands took to the streets and the army stepped in in a manner not very dissimilar to what happened to Mubarak a year earlier. The world called it a coup, many Egyptians still see it as a second revolution.
The man who removed Mursi was the man Mursi himself had chosen as his defence minister, General, now President ElSisi, former chief of military intelligence under Mubarak.
Ironically, the two men have more in common than meet they eye. They are from the same generation and both came from a fairly conservative and religious background. Both thought they have the panacea for Egypt’s many predicaments. Mursi believed Islam is the solution for everything. President ElSisi wants to run society like a military barrack and brooks no dissent — which reminds me of one of my favourite slogans protesters used to chant in the dying days of the Mubarak era : ?askar, ?askar ?askar leih, i7na fi sign walla eih! Soldiers, soldiers everywhere – are we in prison?
[A slightly different version was written for / and broadcast on/ the BBC WS Weekend
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172wyj58379msf at 40:36]