September 16, 2013
Woodrow Wilson Center: Is Egypt on the Right Path? A Conversation with Egyptian Policymakers
With a population of 90 million people Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world. The success of the country not only affects its citizens but also the larger Middle East region and the world at large. The removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July sparked protests and instability throughout the country’s major cities and in the Sinai Peninsula. However, the army has stepped in an begun to restore calm, dispersing protests, moving to secure Sinai, and working towards the establishment of a new constitution, parliament, and government. On September 16 the Woodrow Wilson Center invited three representatives from Egypt, from different political parties, to sit down and discuss the current political situation in Egypt, and how they see the country progressing. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the discussion but only asked one question of the panelists before letting them begin their discussion: Is Egypt on the right path?
Mohamed Anwar El Sadat, Chairman and founder of the Reform and Development Party, was the first to present his views. Though he doesn’t find the the current military rule to be perfect Mr. Sadat considers it to be the best scenario one could hope for, given the divisions and mismanagement the country experienced under President Morsi’s control. Mr. Sadat argued that what the country needs most, and what Morsi’s administration failed to do, is to establish an inclusive government, in which all parties can find representation. Though fairly elected by the people President Morsi failed to incorporate their opinion into his new government; Mr. Sadat described the President as being too focused on consolidating his power rather than forming a national consensus. It was therefore necessary, Mr. Sadat argued, for the military, backed by popular demand, to step in and remove President Morsi; had they waited longer, or till the next elections, Mr. Sadat believes Egypt’s global standing would be ruined. Mr. Sadat has faith in the military backed roadmap, which is working to establish parliamentary elections in two months and redraw a constitution, and called on Islamist parties to stop their protests and to be a part of the process going forward. Groups that were outlawed under Mubarak, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, survived only with the support of the people; Mr. Sadat asked that they remember that and rejoin the political process so that they can work towards bettering the lives of all Egyptians.
Quickly responding to Mr. Sadat’s remarks was Mr. Mohamed ElSaid Toson. Not surprisingly Mr. Tosons, a former representative of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, had a very different opinion on Egypt’s current state. Mr. Toson first challenged Mr. Sadat’s depiction of Morsi’s ousting, referring to it explicitly as a “coup,” and went on to highlight how the seemingly indifferent response from Western nations sets a dangerous precedence. Mr. Toson argued that if the removal of Mohamed Morsi is justifiable than a movement to unseat France’s current president, who’s own popularity has dropped more than 20% since being elected, should be equally permissible. According to Mr. Toson, Morsi’s political opponents orchestrated his ousting, under the guise of public support; he believes that the people who lost in elections are trying to run the country while the victors are being unlawfully jailed. This he claims his is primary concern, that the will of the people demonstrated in the elections is upheld, that the country is acting in accord with the public interest. Right now he doesn’t believe that the people are being represented and he called for a referendum so that they may voice their opinions and shape the country going forward.
The last panelist to speak was Dr. Sameh Fawzy, a former representative of the Coptic Church on the Shura Council. Dr. Fawzy began by explaining how he assessed the Morsi administration based on three key concepts: legitimacy, democracy, and inclusiveness. Morsi’s administration was legitimate; he won the popular vote, with 51% of the total vote. However, Dr. Fawzy found it important to note that he doubled his vote in the second round, going from six million votes in the first round to thirteen million in the second and decisive vote, implying that half his votes came not from faithful supporters but from those who narrowly favored him over his opponents, after their own candidates had been eliminated. Dr. Fawzy argued that these second round voters put their faith in President Morsi, that he would represent them as well as his dedicated base, and that Morsi lost his legitimacy when he failed to include other parties in his government.
Dr. Fawzy went on to question the administration’s dedication to democracy, not just the voting process but also the values Dr. Fawzy sees democracy representing, religious freedom, human rights, women’s rights, etc. These only became a priority Dr. Fawzy said once the protests in June began to increase; it was only this time that the Muslim Brotherhood approved the construction of a church, the first approval after a year in office. These failures to uphold democratic values underscored, in Dr. Fawzy’s eyes, the lack of care for inclusiveness by the administration. In its failure to uphold democratic values the administration failed to make the necessary outreach efforts to include Egypt’s diverse population in the new administration. Dr. Fawzy pointed out that even simple efforts to bring people together, such as enacting policy to commemorate the January 25 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, were sidelined by the administration’s struggle for power with the judiciary, the Copts, and other political groups. Through this perspective Dr. Fawzy saw the Morsi administration as having failed both socially and economically, and made necessary the need for drastic change. Things weren’t simply going to get better.
With these end remarks the panelist stated their final views. Mr. Sadat and Dr. Fawzy seemed to be in agreement that, although he was fairly elected by the people, President Morsi failed to fulfill his civic duties. Though they disagreed on the degree of damage Morsi had done both agreed that change in the administration was necessary, Mr. Sadat said Morsi’s full removal was necessary while Dr. Fawzy claimed the degree of damage can’t be accessed at time nor can the proper repercussions. Mr. Torson argued that the demands and pressure on the President and the newly elected parliament were too large to be solved in one year and that President Morsi was unjustly targeted and ousted by a coup. However, despite their different opinions and perspectives there was room for compromise. In their talks each member stressed the importance of representing the people. Through the words of the speakers, and through the recent events in Egypt, it is clear that the ultimate power lies within the will of the citizens. It is up to the government to represent that will, unify it, and use it to progress the country, its citizens, the Middle East region, and the world.