World Review | Egypt's President Morsi - the face behind the name

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Egypt's President Morsi - the face behind the name

Egypt's President Morsi - the face behind the name
Supporters of Egypt's President Morsi march in Cairo against opposition factions (photo: dpa)

THERE are several controversies surrounding the new President of Egypt. And one of those is how to spell the name of Mohamed (also spelled Muhammad) Morsi (also spelled Mursi and Morsy) Isa El-Ayyat (sometimes included, mostly not).

This name game is a metaphor for how the West perceives the Egyptian leader. While it is not uncommon to spell Arabic names several ways in English - they are only spelled one way in Arabic.

This conundrum extends to the nature of President Morsi’s rule and its impact on the Arab Spring. In the West, there are many conflicting interpretations of what Mr Morsi is up to. But, there is only one Mr Morsi and he has only one policy - the West just does not know what it is.

Before the Arab Spring, which began in a wave of protests in December 2010, Islamist politics in Egypt were typical for the region. Islamist groups had to function within semi-authoritarian regimes. They never envisioned they would win power through a national election. But that is what happened in Egypt.

The hope is, in the West, that the Arab Spring will lead to governments that are held responsible to freely elected parliaments. But President Morsi’s acts have left some Western observers questioning whether that is possible in Egypt.

In the summer of 2012, Mr Morsi promised to cooperate with the US in cracking down on extremists in the Sinai. In November 2012, he brokered a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. He has also called for Syria’s President Bashar al Assad and his regime to step down.

But Professor Nathan Brown from George Washington University in the US describes Mr Morsi’s actions as masking ‘authoritarian retrenchment as liberalising reform’.

When he became president in June 2012, Mr Morsi trumpeted his desire to be inclusive. Broadcaster Al Jazeera, reported that Mr Morsi had ‘appointed a large presidential team from various political backgrounds’. However, they appear to play no substantive role and several resigned after Mr Morsi made a power grab in a decree announcement in November 2012. President Morsi later partially rescinded his decree after major public protests.

Mr Morsi’s rule is firmly rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. He has a reputation for zeal and commitment to the Brotherhood’s agenda.

Mr Morsi’s recent acts as president reinforce the thought that he is most interested in consolidating power. In addition to the November decree, he rushed through plans to hold a referendum on a draft constitution that enshrined Islamist principles.

While it seems President Morsi would like to establish an authoritarian Islamist regime, he must try to counterbalance forces within the country over which he has limited influence.

First, there are Islamist groups that would like to chart an even more reactionary course than President Morsi might envision.

Second, Mr Morsi must still contend with the Egyptian military which continues to play a significant role in national affairs.

Third, there remains a vocal, but poorly organised opposition that continues to support liberal reforms.

Mr Morsi remains heavily dependent on economic aid from the West but has also made unprecedented overtures to both Hamas and Iran.

These initiatives pull against Egypt’s traditional policy of protecting its geostrategic interest by maintaining peaceful relations with Israel and promoting regional stability. They also put Egypt increasingly at odds with US. For decades, the US has provided both economic and military assistance which has been vitally important to Egypt.

Mr Morsi’s leadership tends to polarise rather than unify Egyptians.

Whether he can balance opposing forces to establish an enduring national power base remains to be seen. Egypt may continue a cautious two steps forward one back towards an authoritarian Islamist state. The country might also collapse into another round of profound transformation. Or the military might reassert its authority. It is too soon to tell.

Dr James Jay Carafano

James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in America’s national security and foreign policy challenges, is the Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defence policy ...

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