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President Mursi: One Year in Office | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul (not pictured) after their meeting at Presidential Palace “Qasr Al Quba” in Cairo February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul (not pictured) after their meeting at Presidential Palace "Qasr Al Quba" in Cairo February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gül (not pictured) after their meeting at Presidential Palace “Qasr Al-Quba” in Cairo on February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—With preparations for nation-wide protests on June 30 well underway, Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi took to the stage on Wednesday to defend his first term in office. In the two-and-a-half-hour speech that followed, Mursi admitted making mistakes, but pledged “radical” reform to improve the standard of living of average Egyptians.

The speech was viewed by many as an attempt to preempt the massive protests expected on Sunday, with the president warning against protests. He said: “Political polarization and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos. . . . The enemies of Egypt have not spared effort in trying to sabotage the democratic experience.”

The Egyptian president was also keen to differentiate between a “patriotic opposition” and an illegitimate one, stressing that “violence will only lead to violence.”

EGYPTIANS ARE EVALUATING the performance of the first civilian, post-revolutionary president in the country’s history. Mursi’s one-year report card is a subject of controversy in Egypt, with Muslim Brotherhood supporters playing up the president’s achievements, stressing that nobody could have done better. Mursi’s opponents, particularly civil and liberal political forces, have launched a massive campaign to remove him from office scheduled to begin on Sunday. There is a significant difference between the public anger and discontent in Egypt today and the warm reception that Mursi received at the beginning of his tenure. In a rare moment in Egyptian history, the newly elected president of the republic stood before the Egyptian public in Tahrir Square with his arms outstretched and pronounced the oath of office. Many analysts viewed this as an important gesture by Mursi, an acknowledgment that his legitimacy and presidency emanated from the will of the Egyptian people.

Despite public anxiety at the time due to a controversial delay in the announcement of the presidential election results and fears of Islamists taking to the streets if Mursi was not announced as president, the Egyptian people welcomed his transition to power, albeit grudgingly in some sectors of society. Mursi’s election was seen as the dawn of a new era in Egypt and the end of the post-revolutionary transitional period that had been filled with controversy and division, with many people pinning their hopes on Mursi as the first democratically elected, civilian president of Egypt.

The current controversy surrounding Mursi is nothing new; it predates his presidency, particularly as he first appeared on the public scene as a “substitute” to main Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater. Following Shater’s disqualification from the presidential elections, Mursi found himself thrust into the limelight as the Muslim Brotherhood frontrunner. The first round of elections ended with a run-off between Islamist candidate Mursi and former regime stalwart Ahmed Shafiq, leaving many Egyptians—particularly the revolutionary youth—with what they viewed as the choice between the lesser of two evils.

Mursi ultimately triumphed, but many believe that he now occupies an awkward position. Although he is president of the republic, Mursi is not the most senior Muslim Brotherhood figure in the country, and his election was largely due to Brotherhood support. In addition to this, Mursi also sought the votes of the youth, pledging to safeguard the revolution. By seeking to reconcile these two diverse camps, Mursi has found himself walking a tightrope during his first year in office.

MURSI’S INITIAL DECISIONS as president did not enjoy universal success. The establishment of the Board of Grievances, an expansion of government jobs, the dismissal of Defense Minister Fd. Mar. Hussein Tantawi and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Anan were welcomed across the Egyptian political arena, but ultimately failed in cooling public anger.

Mursi also immediately found himself facing a judicial crisis after making a series of controversial political decisions, most notably his rejection of the Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving Parliament. Following a second court ruling, Mursi retracted his decision, calling on parliament to return to work—a move that ultimately harmed the prestige of the presidency. The situation only worsened after Mursi was forced to retract a number of other controversial decisions under public pressure, particularly the divisive constitutional declaration in which he granted himself unprecedented and sweeping powers.

The same was true of Mursi’s decision to dismiss Egyptian public prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, appointing Talaat Abdullah in his place contrary to judicial custom. Mahmoud’s dismissal and Abdullah’s appointment was met with a judicial strike, forcing Abdullah to offer Mursi his resignation just days later. The saga surrounding Egypt’s public prosecutor entered a third stage earlier this year after the Cairo Appeals Court issued a decision reinstating Mahmoud and annulling Abdullah’s appointment. Talaat Abdullah remains in his post, and Mursi has strongly rejected all calls to reinstate Mahmoud. In the president’s speech on Wednesday, Mursi went so far as to cast aspersions on Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud’s time as public prosecutor, blaming him for the successive “not guilty” verdicts issued against figures from Mubarak’s regime.

Mursi had promised to address a number of key issues in his first hundred days in office, including traffic, waste, fuel, bread and security; however, these problems only increased during this period, particularly the deteriorating fuel crisis.

POLITICAL ACTIVIST Noha Kamal, spokeswoman for the “We’re All Independent for Egypt” movement, backed the June 30 protests. Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kemal stressed: “Mursi has failed to address the issues he promised to address in his electoral platform, not just during his first hundred days in office, but for the entire first year.”

Listing Mursi’s failures over the past year, Kamal said: “Hundreds of people were killed, while 3,000 people have been imprisoned, including a large proportion of minors, not to mention police transgressions and injustices to the poor.”

“Although we elected him and supported him, we now reject him—not because he belongs to any particular faction, but because he has failed to implement justice or the goals for which the revolution was fought. He has not followed through on the pledges he made during the election or honored the martyrs of the revolution. The single merit of his presidency is that it has destroyed the Brotherhood legend,” she added.

Political Islamist writer Safinaz Kazem emphasizes that Mursi’s style of dealing with his critics has been unwise during this tense period of Egyptian history. She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Mursi should have pursued policies that would get people on board with him, but his current style is a divisive one, as if he were pushing people to revolt.” Kazem added: “He is lighting a fire and gathering hearts against him.”

Speaking of her own experience in Mursi-era Egypt—her daughter, political activist Nawara Negm, was subjected to security harassment and prosecution—she said: “My daughter Nawara took part in the January 25 revolution, she has a respectable vision, and it saddens me to see her being referred to criminal court without being questioned. In my view, this type of behavior by the security forces is a disgrace.”

MURSI ALSO FACED mass resignations from within his own regime during his first year of offense. This phenomenon gained attention when seven of Mursi’s presidential advisers announced their resignation in objection to his policies. This included the resignation of poet Farouk Gweda, Egyptian political theorist Dr. Saif Abdel Fattah, author and journalist Sakina Fouad, media executive Amr El-Leithy, Nasserite-leaning political analyst Dr. Mohamed Esmat Seif El-Dawla, veteran journalist Ayman El-Sayyad, Coptic political theorist Samir Morcos, and legal adviser Mohamed Fouad Gadallah.

In addition to this, there was also the resignation of Vice President Mahmoud Mekky and Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky, a political crisis that not only harmed president Mursi’s standing, but also that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr. Moataz Bellah Abdel Fattah, a professor of political science at Cairo University, argues that Mursi’s plan went bad from the start.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Mursi understood things wrong, and continued to be wrong to the point of bringing us all to an impasse. He is holding fast to Hisham Qandil’s government until the elections, and no one knows when these will be held. The Cabinet and the judiciary are in conflict, and Mursi acts as though he cannot get involved. However, if we can agree on one thing, it is that the government’s performance in terms of the economy and providing services is not convincing, and this is what is causing the political crisis.”

Writer and political researcher Dr. Ehab El-Azazy closely monitored Mursi’s performance during his first year in office. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “President Mursi came from a group that participated in the revolution and in all the negotiations with the former regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]. Given his experience in the opposition as well as the fact that he is shouldering the hopes and dreams of the Egyptian people, he should be holding fast to his revolutionary legitimacy and the aspirations of millions of Egyptians.”

“All of us recall the famous slogan ‘Bread, Freedom, Social Justice’; however, one year into the Mursi presidency, it is clear that he has completely abandoned revolutionary legitimacy. This is evidenced by the fact that the goals of the revolution were not achieved nor were the rights of the martyrs honored,” he added.

Azazy stressed that over the past year in office, Mursi has failed to maintain his revolutionary legitimacy, while he has also been unable to take a critical stance to end corruption. “This gives one the impression that Mursi sacrificed his revolutionary legitimacy for the sake of power,” he said.

Regarding President Mursi’s political instincts—something that has been roundly criticized by the opposition—the Egyptian writer said: “President Mursi is a seasoned politician. He is a man who lived in the depths of the Muslim Brotherhood’s global organization; an expert in deal making and elections. This is what put him into the president’s chair—deals and electoral alliances during the marathon to reach the presidency, culminating in an alliance of opposition groups committed to bringing down Ahmed Shafiq.”

“The opposition had specific demands of Mursi that were widely known, but after he took office, he forgot everything he had promised to the opposition—the presidential council, the advisers, and the establishment of a government that brought together all parts of the political spectrum,” he said.

Azazy also criticized Mursi’s appointments, telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “Mursi’s choices were made by his four aides and advisers in an obviously random fashion. Appointments were made merely as a means of political appeasement . . . this resulted in the string of resignations and presidential advisers revealing that they had no real role and that their opinions carried no weight—they were clearly being ignored.”

Azazy characterized the presidency’s decision-making as “zombie-like,” adding, “The government that Mursi formed with Hisham Qandil never presented a political and economic vision to the people and failed to deal with the crises being faced by the Egyptian people.”

He criticized the Ikhwanization of the state that has characterized Mursi’s presidency, stressing that experience and expertise are not taken into account when choosing officials, leading to an institutional vacuum in Egypt.

“President Mursi succeeded in gathering all the political forces against him, thanks to the general feeling that the president does not listen to the opinion of others. As partners in the revolution who supported him against Shafiq, they feel that he makes no attempt to include them in government.”

Mursi strongly denied that accusation in Wednesday’s presidential speech. He lambasted his critics, calling on them to participate in the political process, rather than standing on the outside and complaining. He claimed to have offered senior ministerial positions to a number of opposition figures, adding that the opposition figures had refused to participate.

“The road to change is clear . . . our hands are extended [to the opposition],” Mursi said.

However, Azazy stressed that “Mursi is unresponsive to dialogue and has made major decisions without coordinating with the political forces, including the constitutional decree and the decision to annul the dissolution of parliament.”

“The political forces have boycotted dialogue with the president after Mursi’s refusal to change the Qandil government, the prosecutor-general, or the contentious articles in the constitution, all of which have led to an unabated state of war between the government and the opposition. Mursi and his supporters have demonized the opposition, attempting to blame them for all the president’s failures.”

THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD’S Freedom and Justice Party tells a different story. A statement was distributed recently to its members in Egypt’s various governorates listing President Mursi’s countless achievements. This statement pointed to stability in the security sector, the support of the military establishment, military control over Sinai, and the reopening of arms factories.

The statement also noted economic development in the form of numerous major projects that have created tens of thousands of jobs, as well achieving social justice by raising salaries. Moreover, it maintained that a number of revolutionary demands had been achieved, including compensation for the families of those killed and wounded during the revolution, the release of civilians imprisoned during the January 25 revolution, and the purging of corruption from state institutions.

The statement also claimed that Egypt had returned to its leading role in the Arab, African and Islamic worlds through participation in international conferences and summits. It noted that Egypt had signed eight treaties with China for investments totaling EGP 5 billion, others with Italy amounting to EUR 1 billion, and has also agreed to the establishment of a Turkish industrial zone in Sixth of October City with investments totaling USD 2 billion. In addition to this, Mursi has approved Qatari investment in Port Said and along the Mediterranean coast, bringing in USD 18 billion to the Egyptian economy.

This Freedom and Justice Party statement ended by revealing that Egyptian state television is set to broadcast a documentary on Mursi’s first year in office entitled “A Year of Achievement.” A book of the same name is also forthcoming.

NOT EVERYONE agrees with the Muslim Brotherhood that the economy is doing well, however. For his part, former Egyptian prime minister Ali Lotfi spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the dangerous state of the Egyptian economy following one year of Mursi rule. According to data from official state agencies, Egypt’s new public budget includes an EGP 197 billion deficit.

“This means an EGP 50 billion increase in the deficit beyond the current deficit over the course of the next fiscal year. Subsidies were supposed to have been reduced in order to prevent an increase in the deficit, but this will lead to more borrowing, which in turn leads to an even greater deficit. We are in the middle of a vicious economic cycle,” he said.

Lotfi added: “There is still a snowballing trade deficit, with exports constant at USD 25 billion, while imports have topped USD 50, or perhaps even USD 60 billion.”

The former prime minister also raised the alarm over Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves. He stressed that although they had increased from USD 13.5 billion to USD 16 billion, this was not the product of development, but rather due to grants and assistance from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Turkey. Lotfi made reference to 4,000 closed factories, stressing that the Cairo government has failed to take any initiative to reverse this trend.

“The government should have immediately directed itself to achieve quick results by increasing production and exports and working to solving the unemployment problem,” Lotfi said.

ABDULLAH EL-ASHAAL, the secretary-general of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and a former foreign ministry aide, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “President Mursi came to power at a time when Egypt was suffering from a dangerous division, as reflected in the presidential elections. The president should have studied the implications of those results, and deduced from them who had given him their votes. They did not do it out of love for him or support for the Brotherhood, but rather for the sake of saving Egypt from a return to the Mubarak era, in the form of Ahmed Shafiq.”

Ashaal, a former presidential candidate who withdrew his nomination in favor of Mursi, stressed: “In the absence of widespread public support and under pressure to implement the demands of the revolution . . . Mursi inherited a very difficult situation. It was up to him to take the initiative. It was up to him to surround himself with the greatest number of qualified people possible because his mission is to include everyone, regardless of his like or dislike for them. He did not do this, instead selecting unqualified officials drawn only from the Brotherhood. This is the meaning of the term Ikhwanization.”

He added, “Mursi does not have a vision for the future and did not try to benefit from the capabilities of Egyptian society. Despite this, it is not right for us to demand his ouster. We must instead preserve his existence as the first civilian president in Egyptian people. However, people have legitimate demands and he must respond to these.”

In an exclusive statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saif Al-Islam Al-Banna, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader and son of the organization’s founder, stressed: “In all honesty, I can say with certainty that Mursi did his utmost given the difficult circumstances, and God does not burden a soul beyond his means. Mursi has been beset by difficult circumstances since he took office—from the political opposition forces to the remnants of the old regime and their financiers abroad. There has also been the transition of power, and attempts by some state institutions to remain independent and preserve their former entities. All of these are dangerous obstacles, and this is even more difficult with the president seeking to eliminate corruption.”

Banna, a lawyer who also heads up Egypt’s Bar Association, added: “There have also been many achievements made over the course of Mursi’s first year in power. Equity has been achieved in a number of different areas, and communities have achieved their rights. Likewise, the president responded to many grievances. Many reforms were made and important steps taken, and a number of reform laws were passed that benefit the people. However, there are those who would like to obstruct this course.”

“President Mursi certainly faces many crises at present, and unfortunately there are parties both at home and abroad who are interfering in Egyptian affairs to topple him out of fear that Islamic rule will be established,” Banna emphasized.

He asked, “Is it democratic to obstruct or to bring down a president elected by the people, securing only a return to chaos?”

Wherever one stands on the political spectrum, whether they view President Mursi’s first year in office as a resounding success or an abject failure, there can be no doubt that Egypt remains as divided, if not more so, than when the president first took office on June 30, 2012. The question remains: What will the country look like on June 30, 2014?