Turmoil in Egypt: Morsi Doesn’t Know How to Play Chess

11 12 2012

Morsi pic

egypt_protests_presidential_palace_tear_gas_december_4_2012

The current crisis in Egypt is disheartening, to say the least.  The euphoria of the 2011 revolution now seemingly feels like a deflated balloon, and the violence and ongoing protests illustrate a highly polarized society with inflamed passions, emotions, and fears.  The fears are warranted.

Amid the passions and emotions is tremendous confusion about the way ahead for Egypt.  This is while the masses of educated youth remain jobless, President Morsi is about to raise commodity prices, labor disputes and law and order issues have yet to be resolved, the military waits in the wings to assess the next move, political developments are arrested and left in limbo, Coptic Christians, secularists and women are terrified with the prospects of increased implementation of Islamic laws in social policies, the environment continues to be neglected and degraded, water sources and sanitation systems are in disrepair, the education system’s deficiencies and illiteracy rates are abominable, women continue to suffer sexual assaults, and national and regional security remains fragile and threatened by diverse unsavory elements.

Morsi’s moves within the last few weeks have illustrated two attributes of his leadership and agendas:  first, he seems to lack the skills to out-maneuver the judges (who are carry-overs from the previous regime), hence his political chess skills are lax.  Second, Morsi got carried away with his newfound powers, and his over-confidence betrayed him and the country.  Perhaps it was part of his plan or agenda to bulldoze himself over all the branches of government, as pronounced in his decree, which later he was forced to retract.  Perhaps, in the shadows, this has been the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) agenda all along.  The greatest error was believing that he could get away with it.  Egypt is no longer the decades-long repressed and abused poor masses with a metaphoric pharaoh’s foot on their necks.  Today’s Egypt is a liberated, tech-savvy, and obstinately freedom loving youth, and a host of countless activists who have embraced the mantra “never again.”  Morsi and company need to acknowledge that the freedom-and-rights-Genie is out of the bottle.  Failure to do so only spells their own demise and delegitimized status.

What will unfold in the coming days, weeks, and months in Egypt is yet to be determined.  But one thing is for sure, if the Morsi government fails to tackle the real bread-and-butter issues in Egypt, and fast, his term in office will be extremely brief.  Why religion is presented as a public policy priority, when the people’s main priorities consist of putting food on the table and supporting their families, is beyond comprehension.  If Morsi has paid any attention to the causal factors behind the Tunisian Revolution, as well as Egypt’s revolution, he would know that the main variables and grievances were socioeconomic, not religious.  It seems he was more focused on his hunger for power, rather than the people’s hunger for food.

I close with a compelling quote by James Madison:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” – James Madison, Federalist No. 47.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views

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The Tunisian Model: A Promising Outlook

5 03 2012

I spent the last week in Tunisia and returned last night.  One year after the revolution, Tunisia looks impressive, and the outlook for the country’s economic and political development seems promising and bursting with potentials.  Tunisia is not without problems and bumps in the road to formulating some sort of hybrid Islamic democracy, although no one expects a smooth glide to post-revolution successes in all aspects of society.  That would be naïve for sure.

Tunisian nationalist pride is evident everywhere, and in terms of economic health, one notices construction projects proliferating the skyline in Tunis and elsewhere.  The souk (market) in the old quarter of Medina in Tunis is bustling with activity, but the number of tourists is still not up to standard.  Clearly, the usual crowds of foreigners filling the Tunisian streets and major sites are missing, and this is cause for worry, as the Tunisian economy relies heavily on tourism.  It is not peak tourist season yet, as that happens in the warmer summer months.  But still, people are anxious about uncertainties ahead and the ability to draw foreign investments and tourists.  French and German businesses are quite active in Tunisia, hiring young, tech-savvy Tunisians.  A Gulf-based Islamic bank has been built in Tunis.  The foreign investments are trickling in, but there is still a greater need for more.

The infrastructure functions well, despite the revolution’s overwhelming impact.  Locals informed me that the electricity never shut off, and water keeps flowing in the tap.  There is still unemployment and in the south one finds poverty and labor disputes, plus the grape vine reports serious concerns about Libyan migrants and some unsavory characters crossing into Tunisia from the Tunisian-Libyan border.  In general, Tunisia finds herself at a crossroads:  from reading the locals’ faces, it appears that for the most part everyone is very pleased to see the former dictator Ben Ali go.  Yet, there is anxiety about the way ahead, but nothing like the tension we find in Libya and Egypt.  Tunisia even prides herself as the potential future model for the Arab Middle East, whereas at one time the “Turkish model” was cited.  Tunisians see themselves as the torchbearers.

In order for Tunisia to truly live up to that image, the post-revolution government will need to develop effectively, particularly focusing on employment demands and improved income distribution.  The degree of corruption in the Ben Ali era has left an indelible mark on the Tunisian people, and they are firmly determined never to allow that to happen again.  Many political institutions remain intact, which, one scholar tells me, will allow the future government to function well.  They won’t have to rebuild institutions from square one.  The constitution is still being drawn up, but some speculate that it might be completed within a year.

Of course, there are still some Ben Ali era elements lingering within Tunisia, and I was even told that some Qaddafi family members have fled into the country as well.  These elements only add to the collective anxiety, but overall, Tunisia appears to be on the road to political development and long term prosperity.  These processes will take time, and the Tunisians are very much aware of that.  Everyone I spoke to expressed great optimism, and some even expressed Tunisia’s trailblazing role in triggering the regional uprisings as also a sign that Tunisians will serve as the role model for the post-dictatorship governments to follow.  Right now, Tunisians are sorting out what that model will look like – secular liberal democracy, or some combination of Islam and democracy – and while the subject may be contentious, the discourse and debates I observed were nothing less than civil and respectful.  One year later, Tunisia is deeply and collectively introspective, and may eventually emerge as the model for the region to follow.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.