Coffee House

Mursi has divided Egypt in two with his authoritarianism

3 December 2012

7:29 PM

3 December 2012

7:29 PM

The thing about Islamists is that they just can’t help themselves. Mohammed Mursi’s stock was riding high in certain quarters shortly after he slapped down Hamas in Gaza and avoided a full-scale confrontation with Israel. Foreign policy panjandrums in London and Washington who tout fashionable theories of a ‘moderate Muslim Brotherhood’ felt vindicated in their convictions, arguing the group is really just an Arab version of European Christian Democrats.

Yet so attracted is the Brotherhood to the clarion call of reaction that after the ceasefire, Mursi instantly seized the moment to reveal his proclivity for authoritarianism. There is now no authority in Egypt that can revoke the president’s decisions while he is also empowered to do whatever is needed to ‘preserve the revolution and safeguard national security’. These terms will be widely constructed, leading many Egyptians to regard them as opening the door to a new dictatorship.

Mubarak employed similar ambiguities to consolidate his control, ruling Egypt with an Emergency Law after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Much like Mursi is arguing now, Mubarak insisted the decree was necessary for the preservation of civil order and national sovereignty.


Mursi’s actions in recent weeks can seem contradictory. Yes, he avoided agitating for greater conflict with Israel but this was likely motivated by the instincts of self-preservation rather than temperate statesmanship. After all, the Brotherhood waited almost a century to realise power – and now it rules one of the Muslim world’s most important countries.

Eric Trager, a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, notes:

Mursi’s political biography suggests that he is not a compromiser. Prior to last year’s uprising and his subsequent emergence as Egypt’s first civilian president, Mursi was the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief internal enforcer within the Guidance Office, steering the organisation in a more hardline direction ideologically while purging the Brotherhood of individuals who disagreed with his approach.

This history explains the dexterity Mursi has shown since becoming president. After freeing himself of all judicial oversight he ordered the Islamist-run constituent assembly to submit its draft constitution immediately. Secularists have long since boycotted the process and were challenging the assembly’s legitimacy in the courts before Mursi disenfranchised them with his new powers. When the courts threatened to issue a ruling anyway – thereby directly challenging the president – his supporters blockaded the Supreme Court, making it impossible for judges to meet there.

There is much to worry Egyptians in the new constitution. Explicit provisions guaranteeing women ‘equal status with men in the fields of political, social, cultural and economic life’ have been removed. A ban on ‘insulting prophets and messengers’ has also been proposed, alongside recommendations that the Islamic university of al-Azhar ‘should be consulted in all matters related to Sharia.’

Unrest over the last week demonstrates the extent to which many Egyptians are deeply uneasy with Mursi’s posturing. He has effectively divided the country in two: with Islamists on one side and secularists on the other. Should the latter lose, Cairo will be well on its way to becoming the Caliphate.

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Show comments
  • Andrew Duncan Poole

    “Napoleon defined revolution – “There is no revolution without a change of ownership.'” To read more go to

  • Augustus

    Though many Egyptians were back in Tahrir Square screaming against President Mohammed Morsi’s megalomaniacal power grab, it won’t be so easy for them to topple him as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Morsi has taken steps to ensure a long tenure for himself and the Muslim Brotherhood he represents. One of these steps was to restrict the judiciary. Another was to curry favour with the U.S. – a feat he accomplished with little effort, thanks to its disproportionate focus on Israel. And the message from Obama and his cronies is loud and clear: While the goings-on in the Arab world might warrant a modicum of observation
    from the sidelines, Israel is under the microscope, front and centre. But the new non-secular Egyptian Caliphate is in the making nevertheless.

  • The Elderking

    Oh yes, the assassination of Anwar Sadat – by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Well done Obama and the useful idiots in the UK and EU.

  • Swiss Bob

    Egypt isn’t going to be divided in two.

    The obvious medium term consequences of the ‘Arab Spring’ are the creation of ‘The Ummah’ across the ME. followed by war with Israel, and if they win that, war with the West, which they’ll lose.

    Happy 21st Century everyone.

  • Swiss Bob

    Arab Spring my backside. The only people not to see this coming are the apologists and idiots.

  • Acorn

    There is much to worry the Egyptians..
    Yes but no other country wanted a democracy that actually worked there, did they?

  • Hogspace

    If this is an awful mess, Egypt reduced to a medieval theocracy, just imagine what Syria is going to look like.
    We need to be purging all the islamists out of our country before the going gets really nasty.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Egypt has been divided in two by Mursi?

    The irredeemable cad

    As long as he nominates the Minister for taxing Gazan tunnels we should be OK.

  • emiller7

    This is the Arab spring then!

    • Hexhamgeezer

      The Arab Necrosis

  • eeore

    The problem for certain groups, which might be loosely described as the Neo Cons (though that term has been debased by general politics) is that Egypt did not become a blood bath, they got their way in Libya and Sudan, and from their perspective Syria is bubbling long nicely, as is the ‘conflict’ in Rwanda/Congo.

    It is a source of frustration that the regional flare-ups have not provoked the wider war that was envisaged, with the exchange of nuclear weapons being the the ultimate goal.

    Therefore although Mr Mursi is in the process of acting in ways that on the face of it are against Western interests, he is to be commended for not reacting to the provocations.

    For all the hope of democrats, the issue that is often ignored is that Egypt has thousands of political prisoners, their labour provides a source of funding for high ranking officers and allows the Egyptian military a source of black funding. Therefore it was always unrealistic that Egypt would move seamlessly from a military state to liberal democracy.

    However, regardless of these latest – which in a sense serve to placate the ideologically inclined hotheads who don’t see the wider game (or perhaps they do and don’t care) – the Arab Spring did show that their are groups of independent people who are willing to work toward a free and open society. Which makes it all the more important that the media keep focused on events in Egypt, as this will perhaps moderate the wilder provisions of Mr Mursi’s government; an example of which is the Farewell Sex Law story.

  • michael

    Everybody seems to have had a pretty good idea about how the Muslim Brotherhood were likely to behave yet dangerously exalted them, for nothing more than political expediency. It will be interesting to how the US’s attitudes to the Arab spring evolve when its’ ‘amex’ administration finally runs out of credit.

    • Hogspace

      What will be interesting, if this Theocracy takes hold, is the incredible kicking the IDF gives them when they attack Israel. You just know they will not be able to resist making a third direct attack. You just know the Israelis are going to make a proper example of them.

  • Andy

    I’m afraid Egypt is rapidly becoming the new Iran.

    • Daniel Maris

      Absolutely. Did the Spectator warn about this? No. Did the Spectator through people like Korski encourage us in the delusion that this revolution had a democratic character? Yes.

      Has the Spectator apologised for misleading people in this very fundamental way?


      • Curnonsky

        And was it glaringly obvious from the start of the “Arab Spring” that sharia dictatorship was the ultimate outcome? Yes!

      • Andy

        There was an article in The Times last week. The author had been to a meeting held in the Palace of Westminster which was discussing Egypt and the ‘Arab Spring’, which is anything but. As he remarked he had attended exactly the same sort of meeting where he heard exactly the same arguments made 30 years ago, only it was about Iran and the fall of the Shah, and the meeting was in the next door room.

        • Daniel Maris

          Quite – I think Egypt is already lost to democracy. There is now in place a proto-caliphate involving Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Libya and Tunisia.

  • David B

    Living proof that overthrowing a dictator does not necessarily lead to a better government

  • Austin Barry

    Morsi is Obama’s man.

    What does that say about the idiocy of the US Administration?

    But because Obama’s constituency spends most of its time calculating on its fingers how many food stamps it has left, Obama couldn’t care less.

    US foreign policy seems to be an adjunct of the Ummah.

    • Daniel Maris

      If you think Morsi is Obama’s man, then you are as sadly deluded as those clever French diplomats who thought the Ayatollah Khomeini was “their man”.

      • Curnonsky

        Obama’s national security adviser confidently opined that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “largely secular” organization!

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “A ban on ‘insulting prophets and messengers’ has also been proposed…”

    And why not? Why should Egypt be any different than any of the politically correct West, currently engaged in banning speech and press freedom? We wouldn’t want prophet Hugh Grant to be insulted, inshallah, peace be upon him and you da’ man, dog.

  • Thick as two Plancks

    The universe is vast, pitiless, and godless.

    Some religious leaders are vast and pitiless.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The first you cannot prove and if it is not sentient it cannot be pitiless anyway.

      The second can be responded to with “and some are not” – so what.

      • swatantra

        I would add that most religious leaders are shallow and clueless and, you just can’t take the authoritarianrism out of the Muslim Brotherhood.

        • Kevin

          Based on what sample and with what justification for grouping them in a single population?

  • David Lindsay

    Egypt has never claimed to be a bastion of liberty, a beacon and haven for the oppressed of the earth. But President Morsi has obviously been most affected by at least two such, and is manifestly seeking to emulate them. Look up the Patriot Act. And look up the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act. Of course, he has yet to attain quite those
    levels of freedom and democracy. These things take time, you know.

    The election of President Morsi could have been for the best. A narrow victory the other way could have been blamed on the Copts. But this way, they had a President whom they could instead have placed under considerable internal and very considerable external pressure to cut a deal with them. Instead, they seem to have decided that they are not going to be at the table, thereby ensuring that they are on the menu.

    One quarter of the Egyptian Parliament should be elected on a constituency basis, one quarter elected on a proportional basis, forty-five per cent (an equal number of men and women) nominated by the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and five per cent (an equal number of men and women) nominated by the Coptic Patriarch.

    No legislation could be introduced unless sponsored by at least one MP from each of those four categories, nor could it be enacted without the approval of all four of the General Guide, the Patriarch, and the first and second-placed candidates in a direct Presidential election, termed the President and the Vice-President but enjoying exactly equal powers. Why not?

    On social justice issues, the Muslim Brotherhood is not what it was, having changed direction to recant the public ownership and the wealth redistribution for which it used to campaign, and to support Mubarak’s land reform reversals. But it could easily be talked into changing back, especially since it is by no means clear how convinced the party at large has ever been about these revisions at the top. Remind you of anyone?

    If Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and the Lebanese coalition including Hezbollah are anything to go by, then the Copts are very well-placed to strike an excellent bargain, in stark contrast to our beloved Israel, Turkey and Mubarak. If the Copts are going to be annoyed over anything, then it is going to be over the retention of the peace treaty with Israel, which they have always strongly opposed.

    And the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by British intelligence in order to agitate against independence, has always enjoyed excellent Foreign Office connections; its Anglophilia is exactly what it is so hated by its Israel First, American Second, Britain Nowhere detractors in the Murdoch papers, on Telegraph Blogs, and so on. Commonwealth membership beckons, especially for a country which even still has a currency called the pound.

    This is Britain’s moment. Otherwise, such are the historic ties and the widespread proficiency in English, that we should expect each of our cities to contain several, and each of our large towns to contain one, of those Coptic churches. One tenth of the Egyptian population would have decamped to the most obvious alternative country from their point of view.

    As with the Arabs inside Israel’s 1948 borders, why did we never do for them what we later did for the East African Asians, but a generation earlier, when we were still just about in a position to back it up?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ah yes. Thanks for reminding us of New Labour’s LE(gislati)VE (and) R(egulatory Reform) Act. Please remind us when the Civil Liberties and Parliamentary Sovereignty loving Coalition are going to repeal it.

    • Austin Barry

      Incoherent as always. it reads like a bad memo gathering coffee cup stains in the FCO.

      • David Lindsay

        You mean you didn’t understand it.

        It would be nice if the British papers ever used anyone who knew the first thing about Egypt, or about the Middle East generally. But, for that, we’d need a free press. Not what we have at the moment.

        • Austin Barry

          Well, look at the last paragraph.

        • freebie and the bean

          No one understands what you are waffling about ever.

      • Swiss Bob

        Fraser, Is it possible to have a function whereby the simpletons and deranged can be ignored?

        Not pointing any fingers at Mr Lindsay.

    • Augustus

      So, in short, part of Egypt’s transition to democracy. Much the same way that the
      Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State (1933) was a part of Germany’s transition to democracy, no doubt. Don’t forget, bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into the Egyptian government was a long-term foreign policy objective of early Obama supporter and former Nazi collaborator George Soros.
      Do you think some Egyptians might be missing Mubarack just a little by now?

    • Hexhamgeezer


    • Mike

      Where is your evidence for the MB being set up by British Intelligence ?

      Most of the islamicists show a Lenninist approach. A mass protest/revolution comprising many groups removes the leader of the country and a then a second revolution by a better organised group, using violence in a systematic way, takes control, forming a tyranny. This was the method in February and October 1917, Iran 1979 and the attempt in Algeria . As the leader of the GIA group said ” One person, one vote, once only”.

      The Cheka( KGB) showed that a well organised , trained and ruthless group executing thousands of people(40,000 a month),meant that even relatively small group,such as the The Bolsheviks, was able to take control of Russia.

      The reality is that few middle class people can fight. By buying the support, training and arming tough and violent men from the slums, a group can soon destroy middle class resistance. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards come from poor areas and probably consider the middle class opposition to the mullas as being supporters for the former Shah’s regime.

      A main reason why the Boslheviks did not take over in Germany in 1918-1919 was that they were opposed by highly experienced, tough and well trained soldiers who had fought in WW1; from privates to generals .Trench warfare gave the Freikorp the ability to fight in urban areas.

      If the Arab Spring is to lead to liberty and democracy; then the democrats need to ensure they can train, organise and arm more street fighters than those who wish to impose a dictatorship: Russia 1917, Iran 1979 or Germany 1918-1919?