Egypt has fallen victim to two forces; the power of the Islamists’ popularity and the political, judicial, economic and media influence of the liberals. These two forces have competed ever since the Free Officers’ revolution in the early 1950s, but recent events show that the relationship between them has now gone beyond antagonism to fierce hostility, and from lawful strikes to violent blows below the belt. This now threatens to plunge the country into a swamp, filled with the bacteria of unrest.
The newspaper al-Yaom al-Sabaa, affiliated to the liberal current, reported from its own sources in the presidential palace that some liberals were planning to use the judiciary to strike a fatal blow to President Mursi, after they had failed to use the military to that end. Thus the President announced his recent and dangerous constitutional decrees to eat his opponents for breakfast before they ate him for lunch. Thanks to the very nature of this case we are not able to deny or confirm this hypothesis, but the reality on the ground says that the civil trend, the remnants of the former regime, businessmen and the majority of the Egyptian media – despite the many contradictions between them – are launching accusatory arrows at the Brotherhood and its elected president from the same bow. These forces do not have the asset of widespread popularity, but they have the means to be effective and powerful, and some of them have escalated matters to the level of violence. We all saw the hired thugs who tried to storm the Interior Ministry and who did destroy several of the Freedom and Justice Party’s headquarters, setting fire to a number of them without one leader of the “civil” opposition criticizing these irresponsible acts.
The liberal current’s recent hostility has transformed it from a civilized opposition using criticism and observation to evaluate the Islamists’ term in power, to an opposition that wants – as we have already seen – to spoil President Mursi’s experience at all costs. Mursi had only been in office for a few weeks when demands first surfaced to overthrow the president and withdraw confidence from his government. Some of these calls made by the opposition seem indifferent to the reality of the situation, such as the fact that the majority of Mursi’s cabinet ministers are not affiliated to the Islamic movement. Furthermore, the president has achieved success in restoring something of Egypt’s diplomatic role, which diminished during the reign of the Mubarak regime, and in dispelling the rumors about Egypt strengthening relations with the Iranian regime. Mursi has in fact acted to the contrary, as a number of Western newspapers have commented, and has dealt blows to Iranian influence in the region by redirecting the Hamas’ compass towards Cairo instead of Tehran, and by strongly criticizing the Bashar al-Assad regime whilst on Iranian soil. Finally, President Mursi recently achieved further diplomatic success in the signing of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, during which time America realized the importance of having a negotiator stemming from a popular base, rather than an alliance whereby the stronger ally simply dictates to the weaker one.
At the same time, the euphoria surrounding these achievements has emboldened President Mursi, and he has begun to take tougher decisions to consolidate his authority and to prove that he deserved to be elected. We first saw this with his difficult decision to dismiss the strong military figure [Field Marshall] Tantawi and his assistant [General] Sami Anan, and most recently with his latest constitutional decrees. However, not every decision can be a success, for Mursi’s latest decrees, unlike his decision to neutralize the military, have created sharp divisions within Egyptian society. Now he has entered into a dangerous confrontation with a strong judicial regime that not even the semi-totalitarian Mubarak regime could tame.
Mursi’s constitutional decrees have also reinforced the traditional accusation long repeated by the opponents of the Islamists, namely that they participate in elections only as a means of seizing unilateral power. The Brotherhood’s experience of governance in Egypt is particularly under the microscope, unlike the less prominent case of Brotherhood rule in Tunisia, and in its fragile beginnings such dangerous doses of controversy could thwart it in its infancy.