I was in Egypt during the protests that led to the army removing President Morsi from power. The atmosphere on the streets was electric and the TV pictures from Tahrir Square showed just how extensive the crowds were.
I have mixed feelings about the actions of the armed forces. Out on the streets the army was very visible. It was also clear that they were one with the protesters. Soldiers manning their gun turrets were waving at the car loads of flag-waving protesters. However, elections did take place in Egypt in 2012 which were widely regarded as free and fair. This was the first time Egypt had opportunity to freely elect a president. Predecessors up to President Mubarak had all been dictators of the style who manage to get themselves automatically re-elected.
With those elections bringing an Islamist, or for that matter, anyone, to power, surely the electorate should wait until the next election to remove their leader. Indeed President Morsi stated this in a speech shortly before he was deposed. He asked that the people be patient, allow him to continue his policies and if, come the next elections they remained unhappy with him, then to elect someone else.
However, there are a number of reasons why Morsi, or anyone representing the Muslim Brotherhood, was not going to be a popular choice in the long-term, particularly in Cairo, where the January 2011 protests that led to the fall of Mubarak were most obvious.
Firstly the January protests in Tahrir Square were not initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Those protesting represented a wide variety of socio-economic groups and religious affiliations. They were protesting the restrictive practices of the Mubarak regime that infringed upon basic human rights such as freedom of speech, and the lack of free elections. They were also protesting high food price inflation, resulting in part from the 2008 world-wide economic recession, and high unemployment. The protests had no strong Islamic overtone. Thus it is not surprising that the recent protests in Tahrir Square would involve many of the same groups. The Muslim Brotherhood strongholds are found in the poor areas of Eastern Cairo, not in the wealthier city center and residential areas. They never had much presence in Tahrir Square.
Secondly a look at the demography of the election in 2012 shows that Morsi was elected by majorities in the western part of the nation and in the eastern industrial areas along the Suez Canal. The electoral districts along the Nile down the center of the nation, from Alexandria on the Mediterranean to Luxor and Aswan in the south voted in the majority for the opposition candidate Ahmed Shafik. The electoral result was roughly 51.5% to 48.5% showing Egypt, like the recent US elections, to be closely divided.
However, the opposition candidate had been Mubarak’s last Prime Minister, hardly someone to inspire confidence in those who wanted significant change from the practices of the previous regime. Consequently many moderate Muslims and some Christians had voted for Morsi as the viable alternative to the old regime.
Lastly, Mr. Morsi had not made himself popular with many of those who elected him. His actions with regard to the constitution, the profile of Islamic law and the replacement of government officials had antagonized many groups of people. Also he was regarded as failing to tackle the huge economic problems that Egypt faces. The value of the currency has declined by 50% since the Arab Spring, prices have continued to rise and the poor have been increasingly marginalized.
Morsi did himself no favors by choosing as the new governor of Luxor province the leader of the political wing of a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of 62 tourists in an attack on a tour bus in 1997. That event did much to reduce the tourist economy of upper Egypt.
Looked upon from the viewpoint of many of my Egyptian friends Morsi’s departure is good news. However we can only hope and pray that the next round of democratic elections enable someone who is capable of uniting a diverse community around common domestic and foreign policies, and serving out their term in government without inciting large protests.