Mohamad Morsi - Egypt’s first democratically elected president – made his UN debut last week in the latest push for a ‘new Egypt’.
The June elections marked a change in season for Egypt’s Arab Spring. Whilst – for the first time in the country’s history – the people had chosen their leader democratically, for many this was hardly the political revolution they had fought for.
Egyptians had put on a united front to oust long-standing dictator Hosni Mubarak, but the political vision of these revolutionaries varied wildly. When the people took hold of their right to vote, all bets were off as to what politics would be leading the country into the new age.
Faced with the choice of Ahmed Shafiq - a relic of the old regime - or Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, many Egyptians saw Morsi as the lesser of two evils, whilst others simply chose not to vote.
After the elections, with the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in office, it was feared that an all-out Islamist takeover could be on the cards. And, whilst leftists put Morsi’s social policies under scrutiny, ordinary people looked to the new president for an economic turnaround. To win the trust of the people and meet the needs of society, Morsi was left from the offset with a mountain to climb and a heavy load to bear.
And, it wasn’t just the people that Morsi was up against. Whilst he might have won in the polls, the real power still lay with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) who had been ruling Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, putting a wall between the new leader and any chance of serious change.
Proving himself to be more than a political puppet, Morsi began to stamp his authority and curb SCAF’s power.
In a major army shake-up heads began to roll as Morsi stripped the Army Chief of Staff, Sami Anan, and the head of SCAF, Field Marshall (Mohammed) Hussein Tantawi, of their titles. Maintaining this ‘out with the old, in with the new’ policy, Morsi continued to flex his political muscle over the military, retiring 70 top army generals.
And he didn’t stop there, the new leader got his teeth stuck into the very constitutional declaration – issued by the military before his election – that gutted the authority of his office. Replacing it with a new declaration, Morsi made sure to give himself broad legislative and executive powers over the running of Egypt and, potentially, a decisive role in the drafting of the country’s still unfinished new constitution.
Moving his attention back to the people, Morsi continued his fight to garner support and stem fears of an Islamist takeover by promising to elect a Christian and a woman as two vice presidents – a move that would widen the gap between the new and old regimes. Whilst many Egyptians are waiting with baited breath for his promises to come to fruition, by appearing open to change Morsi has, so far, been able to keep liberal unrest at bay.
Yet, whilst Morsi has taken defiant strides to tackle the initial challenges, he still has a lot of ground to cover.
Some activists have hit out at the Brotherhood for attempting to hijack the revolution, whilst others remain fearful of the group’s religious and political sway. This means Egypt’s new Popular Current party could pose a very real threat to Morsi if it manages to engage with the country’s liberals.
But, at last week’s 67th session of the UN general assembly in New York, Morsi’s address went one step further in demonstrating his political credentials, as he presented himself as a statesman rather than a politician.
As Egypt remains in a state of transition the political future of the country is unclear, and the jury is still out as to whether – under Morsi’s leadership – a ‘new Egypt’ can thrive.
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