Thursday, January 31, 2013

Secularist reasons for supporting Morsi

Secularists who want change in Egypt might have good reason to support Morsi - even if he is determined to implement an Islamist agenda.

Though the opposition quite naturally wants to counter Morsi's electoral victories by portraying him as a Mubarak-style dictator, this conceals not only the realities but the opportunities - and indeed the dangers.

Morsi is anything but a dictator.

He does not have control of the most even basic and primitive tool of sovereignty, the power to impose his will by force.  He does not control the army.  He does not control the police.   He cannot rely on any military or paramilitary or police institution to obey him.

Just as Morsi does not possess the force essential to a government or state, he does not have any of the tools supposed to give a state legitimacy.   He has, by majority rule, a claim to these tools, but they elude him.   He does not have a constitution accepted by his sizeable opposition.   He does not have a recognized legislature.   He does not even have laws.  Every institution of the former government obeys him more or less at the good pleasure of its functionaries.

Just as he does not possess the tools of force or legitimacy, he does not have the resources to shape them, even on an interim basis.  That's because he not only lacks control over the judiciary, he and the country don't even have a politically legitimate judiciary.   All he and the country have are people posing a judges on the basis of a thoroughly discredited, destroyed rĂ©gime.

It follows, unavoidably, that Morsi has little but words.  It's hardly coherent to speak of what he ought or ought not to do.   Since responsibilities imply the means to fulfill them he has, to put it bluntly, no responsibilities.   Even if he makes dictatorial-sounding pronouncements, it's just childish to call him dictatorial or to compare him with Mubarak   Mubarak had a state, and power.   Morsi - since apparently this bears repetition - does not.

If Morsi has only the semblance of power, but is judged as if he had its substance, he is easily perceived as a failure.   Opposition violence, even if justifiable, invites the idea that Egypt is sinking into chaos.   If it is, the opposition - again, however justifiably - contributes to the situation.   But is this a recipe for change?

Inevitably and predictably, the army is hinting ever louder that, if reconciliation fails and society slides into chaos, it might 'have to' intervene.   And both reality and perception give some support to the idea that chaos is on the horizon.   Meanwhile the NSF shows itself receptive to the army's role as arbiter, and on the street we hear again that the people and the army are 'one hand'.   Suppose the army does intervene?

The army will then take over when elections are seen to have failed, when the Brotherhood is seen as incapable of governance, and when the opposition is seen as a politically bankrupt enemy of stability.   Meanwhile the NDP and feloul have been, to a certain extent, rehabilitated - after all, they too oppose Morsi's 'dictatorship'.   It is hard to resist the conclusion that, should the army intervene against Morsi, it will be the same old, same old:  a thinly veiled military dictatorship, perhaps not even in new dress.  Indeed it is hard to imagine how anything but an Islamist-secularist alliance could challenge the army's entrenched supremacy.  Certainly any fractious, probably unstable 'unity government' (as mooted by Nour and NSF) would be unlikely to do so.

That's not all.   If anything is going to radicalize Islamists, it would be their forcible ejection after electoral victory.   Everyone can conjure up their own dark scenarios, but no one can imagine that secularists and Islamists will find peace and serenity if Morsi is deposed.

But suppose the opposition lets Morsi form a real government.   If recent events show anything, they show that Morsi is  extremely vulnerable to political pressure.   With real government would come real responsibility for its failures - and a much more promising basis for secularist organizing than the army's return to power.   With Morsi, there can be change.   Without him, change seems unlikely in the extreme.


  1. While much of your argument is sequentially logical, and while i agree with your conclusion that deposing Morsi is not a solution, you seem to be mixing up cause and effect.

    "it's just childish to call him dictatorial or to compare him with Mubarak": your view that he cannot be considered a dictator because he doesn't have the means and his tools are ineffective, it's not for lack of trying. The wall of opposition - and not just secular - to the November constitutional declaration and the consequent problems these days (a direct result) has made him a weaker president and made many groups and even institutions unwilling to cooperate or at the very least lacking in trust. The pressure on the president and his group from the rest of the country is what is tempering their dictatorial tendencies. Just look at their record (words and action) in power so far - they are completely uninterested in real reform of the state or policies, they're happy with the same setup only with their men in charge.

    1. I suppose that - in part - this depends on whether by "dictatorial" one means "takes dictatorial actions" or "intends to take such actions" or "would like to take such actions". Morsi does not do the first, and most of us might be guilty of the third :) I'm sure Morsi is not a dictator. I don't know what he intends, but I can well imagine he believes in democracy. Why not? It got him elected.

      Where actions re concerned, in my view it hardly makes sense of speak of a 'record'. As for his words, from November on, I have to admit that a variety of interpretations are available. And others are in a better position than I to assess which segments of the opposition, if any, were ever disposed to cooperate.

  2. The NDP got much more than just their legitimacy back from from Morsi they got the support of a huge swath of the middle class. The NSF's demands are mostly quite reasonable they are mostly for forcing democratic process as opposed to majoritarianism. What the Army would do now that the NSF is at least a substantial minority party amenable to NDP interest, is simply impose a constitution which had supermajority provisions and protections of individual rights. Probably additionally enshrine strong autonomy protections for the military.

    This means the Islamists then have to legislate through compromise not unilateral dictates. This isn't a terrible outcome. This is precisely what democracy is supposed to achieve. The military / NDP doesn't need to subvert democracy they just to tune it a bit.

  3. You fail to make the argument as to why 1) secularists should consider the return of the old order a worse outcome that the triumph of Islamists (the reality simply is that many do not) and 2) why secularists should consider their own reliance on the military more distasteful than the alliance with the military made by the Muslim Brotherhood, which granted it unprecedented autonomy (in term of the history of Egypt's constitutional safeguards for the armed forces) in the constitution they backed.

    While the dominant narrative in the West may have been of a revolution for democracy, the key impetus on which there was wide agreement was a revolution against Hosni Mubarak, his inner circle, and the prospect of his son succeeding him. On everything else, the unity of the revolutionary moment unravels.