Mursi losing grip
David Lynch, Bloomberg, March 7, 2013
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi’s declaration of a state of emergency in three restive provinces had all the earmarks of an autocrat’s command, right down to the 9pm curfew.
“When I see the security of the nation is in peril, then I act. And I now act,” Mursi thundered in a late-night television broadcast on January 27.
After protesters ignored him—some in the port of Ismailia played 9pm soccer games in front of the provincial government headquarters—the President backed down. Within 48 hours, he allowed officials to relax the late-night ban.
His surrender wasn’t unusual. Though assailed as “Egypt’s new pharaoh” after an assertion of unchecked power in November, the Islamist President has often retreated when challenged, especially to avoid provoking unrest.
He has stalled on policy changes demanded by the International Monetary Fund in return for a desperately needed $US4.8 billion loan. He has let stand the military’s hold on the economy, which is sapping the nation’s wealth. And he has shied from confronting a police force that has brutalised protesters, though he and his allies were frequently its victims before assuming power.
And now a court has defied Mursi, suspending his decision to hold legislative elections starting next month.
Presidential impotence has left Egypt drifting. Two years after public disgust with a widening gap between rich and poor toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians are saddled with rising prices and 13 per cent unemployment. Stocks are worth less than half their peak value in 2008 and foreign reserves are down 60 per cent, while Mursi’s popularity fell below 50 per cent last month for the first time since his election last June.
“In the West, everybody thinks Mursi has all the authority,” said Nabil Fahmy, dean of the school of public affairs at the American University in Cairo and Egypt’s former ambassador to the US. “You come here and see that nobody has authority at all.”
“He is weak,” said Anwar Sadat, the leader of a small opposition party and the nephew of the Egyptian president assassinated by Islamic radicals in 1981. “He is not a dictator. I feel very sorry for him. He is not as everyone believes.”
Executive timidity has been especially costly in addressing financial woes, including a budget deficit of 10.8 per cent of gross domestic product. Wary of a public backlash, Mursi has yet to conclude negotiations on the International Monetary Fund loan, needed to plug the hole in the country’s finances. Extra financial help from the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank hinges on the IMF’s approval.
Even as he shrinks from unpopular choices, the President becomes increasingly unpopular. In a poll last month of 2275 adults, the percentage that approved of his performance fell to 49 per cent from 78 per cent four months earlier, according to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research in Cairo.
His disapproval rating rose to 43 per cent from 15 per cent; the margin of error was less than 3 per cent.
“We need a powerful government,” says Amre Moussa, who was Mubarak’s foreign minister for 10 years before losing to Mursi in the presidential balloting.
Despite Mursi’s missteps, the Brotherhood remains Egypt’s best organised political force, especially in the populous rural areas. The ineffectual National Salvation Front, split among competing secular factions headed by Moussa, ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, plans to boycott parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on April 22.
The alliance has gained little ground amid Mursi’s stumbles: 35 per cent of Egyptians say they’ve never heard of it, according to the February poll. Among those who have, the NSF is opposed 53 per cent to 35 per cent.
That means Mursi and the Brotherhood are unlikely to leave power any time soon. Says Sadat: “You have no one else.”