As a democrat – American readers note small ‘d’ – I should be sympathising with Mohammed Morsi, dumped unceremoniously as Egypt’s first elected leader, after shading an election 12 months ago to rule the Arab world’s most populous state for a four-year term.
But he was frontman for the pernicious Muslim Brotherhood’s corny attempt at democractic respectability, the Freedom & Justice Party. And that should have been a heavy hint as to the direction Egypt would head…anywhere but full-blown democracy.
Also undeniable was how the Brethren slyly remained in the shadows when the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak’s secular dictatorship kicked off.
There was hardly a Brother in sight as students, middle-class professionals, women and intellectuals bravely took to the streets against the military regime, facing down tanks and riot police.
Morsi’s henchmen never needed to raise a prayer-bead in support, because they knew the opposition was largely a fragmented rabble. Only they had the organisation to concoct an election-winning gambit, even if it meant pretending to shelve their fundamentalist zeal.
Today, however, Mo wouldn’t win a one-man contest to be his neighbourhood rat-catcher. Nor does he deserve to.
Because, while the now ex-president might know every hadith in the Koran and can probably recite the entire tome, verbatim, Mo goofed spectacularly as a leader, faithful to the faith, but not the wider nation.
As he increasingly imagined himself a latter-day pharaoh, they baulked at his divide-and-rule arrogance, a litany of broken electoral promises, the remorseless drift towards an Islamic state, crackdown on civil liberties and the religious rights of non-Sunnis.
Most of all, sane Egyptians wondered why the country was an economic basket-case, where bread had become a luxury, power cuts a fact of daily life – unsurprising, given the busted flush of a country has only a fortnight’s fuel in its tank – unemployment and the murder rate soared, while the $200bn of external investment Morsi pledged never materialise.
Instead, corruption and chronyism ballooned, as exemplified by the appointment of an old Brotherhood mate, with links to a terrorist group that slaughtered 58 foreigners in 1997, as governor of Luxor. It so incensed Egypt’s tourism minister, he threatened to quit, further exposing Morsi’s utter disregard for the subtleties of power.
However, Mo can claim some credits, notably brokering a wonky truce between Gaza’s headbangers, Hamas – one of many Brotherhood franchises in the region – and Israel, plus begrudgingly maintaining a cold peace with the Jewish state, as negotiated by President Anwar Sadat (later repaid for his efforts with a hail of bullets).
However, despite claims to legitimacy – and he even forced through a referendum on a controversial constitution, that expressed some of the Brotherhood’s extreme themes – Morsi’s cavalier take on democracy wasn’t what the people signed up to.
As Samer Shehata, an expert on Islamist Arab politics, explains, ‘He has been a disastrous leader; divisive, incompetent, heavy-handed and deaf to wide segments of Egyptian society who do not share his Islamist vision.’
So, as they cried over spilt votes and a brief, bitter-sweet flirtation with democracy, the furious hordes sought a re-revolution – a return to (Tahrir) Square One – and won it, thanks to the army’s intervention.
Maybe the moral Egyptians have learned is be careful what you wish for. Because, in the wrong hands democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And remember: a certain Adolf Hitler polled most votes in a democratic election back in 1932 and no-one needs reminding of what catastrophes that preluded.
Meanwhile, the world asks: whither next, Egypt?
Certainly, the military doesn’t want to be accused of staging a coup d’etat – it could cost them their $1.5bn annual ‘stipend’ from the US – therefore they’ll claim the role as peacemakers, not power-brokers and try to stop Egypt sliding into civil war.
Chief Justice, Adly Mansour, has been hastily sworn in as interim president and will nominate an provisional government of technocrats. The first item on their agenda will be to rip up Morsi’s Islamic constitution and draft one that’s inclusive, reflecting the nation’s secular aspirations.
All being well, a fresh election can be called within a year, but will the Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party once again be a player? Or will it be proscribed, as it was by Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser, who overthrew the venal monarchy of King Farouk in 1952?
More intriguing still, if the Brethren do enter the electoral fray, what if they win again?
Meanwhile, after the Arab Spring predictably disintegrated into an Islamic Winter, Morsi’s downfall and the moderate mainstreams’ revolt against religious autocracy will reverberate across the tinderbox of the Middle East and North Africa.
It certainly ought to send shudders down the spine of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, where – as I recently posted – he’s risks a decade of prosperity by imposing creeping Islamism, much against the wishes of the secular masses.
The West, too, must wrestle with the paradox of a democratic, post-democratic Egypt.
It might start by explaining a fundemental premise to success is the separation of religion from the state, no easy objective for entities like the Brotherhood, whose credo is, ‘God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations’
And President Obama, slow-witted in dealing with the 2011 uprising, has to stop spouting support for Morsi and state emphatically that democracy isn’t about winning a one-off election, then insiting it’s a legitimate licence to impose a new tyranny.
Maybe he can borrow a headline from Cairo’s Al-Gomhuriya newspaper: ‘The people’s legitimacy was victorious,’ it crowed.
If any words entirely undermind all Morsi’s claims to the moral high ground, those do.