Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Timawus Mathias

I had a medical reason to visit Egypt in 2009, and spent two weeks in Cairo, having suffered what i thought was stroke. It was bells-palsy. From the airport, just like in Abuja, I was hassled into an unmarked taxi, and though I had fears that being a stranger, I could be taken advantage of, I found courage on my bulky frame from seeing that the driver was a smallish push over. Besides he spoke some good English.

Once I was settled in the cab, Amr - that was his name - asked to know what hotel I was going, and guessed it right even before I told him. That was where most Nigerians stayed on medical visits, he assured. Of the three hospitals he mentioned in the area, my referral was to one. On his own, he told me, life in Egypt was awful and boring, that Hosni Mubarak, their President was as old in power as the sphinx!

"He was there before I was born", he muttered as if to himself. "I have known him all my life! It is me that needs to rest from hearing his name".

I complimented the physical development I saw around me, the boulevards, the flyovers, a city with more people and cars than Lagos and yet did not have our traffic nightmares. I told him so.

"It's a deceptive rose believe me Sir. Beautiful and scented sweet, but there are thorns. The people are fake. They smile in anguish. We have no money, no employment. Everything is costly. All the money has been stollen by Mubarak and his children. Thirty Years! We must get rid of them someday by Allah!" He nosed his car expertly into my hotel drive and I suddenly saw the neon sign, to my relief. Without commitment, he shuffled my luggage into the lobby, helped by the waiter and looked towards me for his money. Service rendered. I paid him thinking of the similarity between how he felt and expressed and his type on the African continent, more so my country Nigeria, where from State to State, I have witnessed such anger, such lethargy and resignation to class despotism. I knew it would boil over in Egypt. It did.

In 2011, a long popular unrest swept across Egypt, in which I was certain this cab driver participated, forcing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down from his mercurial hold on power for the 30 long years. The popular unrests against Mubarak which began at the end of January 2011, got to a chaotic head with the Police abandoning the streets to protesters. In the second week of February 2012, President Hosni Mubarak resigned and fled from Cairo, and the army, without alternative, took control and set the country towards democracy and its very first democratic election.

They should have learnt miracle working from Nigeria where the election only confirmed the choice of the Military. They would not have been as laissez-faire. The Egyptian election was won 51% by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood which had fielded Mohammed Morsi. In democratic parlance, the Egyptian people had chosen Mohammed Morsi to be their new president. What ever the establishment had done in the past to safeguard their interest in the secularity of the State came to a nullity. Fundamentalists had taken charge.

With that narrow margin of victory, it was obvious that President Mohammed Morsi was walking on thin ice and needed to be a genius to balance his act. What he lacked in a clear majority, he made up for in brazen ideological stubbornness. His supporters the Muslim Brotherhood wanted Islamic law established in secular Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak who ruled for 30 years had ensured that the Constitution included a clause that barred religion from ever being the basis for political rule of Egypt. This constitution was suspended by the Military after Mubarak, and Morsi's task became the fashioning of a constitution with which to rule.

He drafted a constitution that negated the secular principles, and went on to see to a contentious constitutional referendum boycotted by the opposition, and in which only 32.9% of the electorate was said to have voted, even as turn out was massive. Voters were asked to approve of the draft constitution that had earlier been approved by the Muslim Brotherhood-led Constituent Assembly on 30 November 2012. Amidst a boycott by the opposition, the constitution was approved by 63.8% of the vote in favour. In democratic parlance, the majority had carried the vote.

Under the new constitution, the Parliament took on more powers than the Presidency, but the snag was that it did not place the Armed Forces under the President and Head of State and instead left them with just the same powers as they held during the three decade Mubarak rule. This is the ghost that has now haunted President Morsi.

What did Morsi do wrong? He tried to bend a dry stick and it broke. Elected 51% as President meant that there was 49% recognisable dissent. If we truly believe in democracy, winners even by a wide margin must learn not to take short cuts. The political divide in Egypt is not along religious lines - notable in the revolt against Morsi are many of his own party members, and affiliates. His draft new constitution was non consensual and Morsi appeared bent only towards guaranteeing a hold on power by the Muslim Brotherhood, so much that this past year saw Egypt more in political wrangling than in stability and advancement of the economy. Initially even weak, Egypt has been broke, with a telling effect on the public, thereby eroding the much needed grounds on which the fragile democracy would have advanced.

Morsi was tactless and ignored the fact that the all powerful Military clique, jaws greedily open wide, was only waiting on the wings to reclaim the power they had held these past 30 years. And so while the military waited 300 days of protests to oust Mubarak who had ruled for three decades, it took them only 30 days to topple Morsi, who had ruled for only one year.

The military intervention is difficult to justify because a protesting electorate is one of the challenges of democracy. In spite of Morsi's shortcomings,the democratic channel options for a solution were far more advantageous than the obviously hasty ouster of a democratically elected regime, that had only been one year in power. Cure worse than the disease, I must say.

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