Skip to main content

Morsy miscalculating Egyptians' rage

By Nancy Okail, Special to CNN
updated 12:07 PM EST, Thu December 6, 2012
A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations. A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations.
HIDE CAPTION
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
Egyptians protest over presidential powers
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nancy Okail: In only a few months, Mohamed Morsy has provoked protests
  • She says this recalls Hosni Mubarak as Morsy has upended constitutional process
  • She says he has miscalculated his mandate; his actions have galvanized opposition
  • Okail: He can still reverse course; Egyptians and world won't stand for authoritarianism

Editor's note: Nancy Okail, director of Freedom House's Egypt program, is one of dozens of activists being prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities as part of a crackdown on independent civil society groups in the country. She has worked for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation. Follow her on Twitter @NancyGEO

(CNN) -- This week, in a scene not witnessed during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian presidential palace was encircled with barbed wire as thousands of protesters opposing President Mohamed Morsy besieged it from all sides. The visual is shocking, considering that a few short months ago, Morsy stood without a shield to give a speech to thousands in Tahrir Square.

Most experts would agree that Mubarak did not start out as the dictator he ultimately became. Indeed, the oppression, torture and crackdown on opposition his regime was known for grew gradually over the years before reaching the height of brutality in his last term.

Nancy Okail
Nancy Okail

It also took at least 10 years of determined commitment by activists and opposition to make change. The opposition grew from a few people beaten by police while peacefully protesting on the stairs of the Supreme Court to more organized groups such as Kefaya and April 6, to the massive citizens uprising of January 25, 2011.

But in just a few months, Morsy already has deployed all the ingredients of authoritarianism: intimidating media outlets, defaming opposition and casting doubt on their patriotism and intentions and using violence and detention against protesters.

On November 22, Morsy finally crowned these atrocities with a constitutional declaration granting him complete power over the executive, legislative and judiciary authorities, with no accountability. When the act was denounced at home and abroad, Morsy claimed that these are temporary measures were required to protect the revolution and help the transition to democracy. What has followed have been the opposite of democratic.

Explainer: What's driving Egypt's unrest?

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Morsy quickly announced that there would be a December 15 referendum to vote on the new draft constitution that was rushed through by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly. The majority of liberal and secular voices had already boycotted the committee over a lack of transparency in the drafting process. Despite protests, strikes and a declaration by federal judges that they will not monitor what they consider to be an illegitimate referendum, Morsy shows no sign of reversing course -- ignoring opposition in the fashion of Mubarak.

But Mubarak was not democratically elected. Then why is Morsy moving so frantically to consolidate his power without even attempting to disguise it behind a democratic facade?

The answer is, Morsy is not stupid. He is aware that he only won by a 1.7% margin. A substantial number of his voters favored him only to avoid another era of military rule at the hands of his opponent, Mubarak's ex-prime minister, Ahmed Shafik. In fact, the non-Islamist opposition arguably represents the majority, but only failed to mobilize for the election because it was deeply fragmented and disorganized. But Morsy's coup has done what some thought impossible: unite the liberal/moderate opposition.

Outside observers applauded Morsy's early decisions -- such as dismissing the heads of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, releasing military prisoners and banning pornographic websites -- as surprising and bold. However, these decisions were either populist or designed to appease his constituency of Islamists.

Morsy avoided making any painful, but essential, decisions, such as lifting subsidies, increasing prices of utilities and dealing with unemployment.

Tensions in Egypt turn deadly
Chaos in Cairo
Rocks fly during clashes in Cairo

But Morsy has made three major miscalculations.

First, he made appeasing his own constituency a bigger priority than winning over the opposition. This helped them to unify against him.

Second, he assumed that he would be immune from international criticism after his celebrated success in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israeli earlier last months.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he underestimated the Egyptian people. The massive protests on Tuesday, which included people of all ages, incomes and walks of life, showed that the Egyptian people no longer would accept dictatorship in any form.

iReport: Bloody clashes around Egyptian Presidential palace

The opposition has shaken Morsy's misconceptions: The protests have been unified and included all political forces. Meanwhile the international community is not so naive and realizes that the opposition is not simply a minority group that wants to restore the old regime, a scenario the Brotherhood spokesmen publicly propagate.

All is not lost for Morsy if he is willing to change course. If he were to withdraw the declaration, call for a national dialogue and provide an opportunity for an inclusive space to redraft the current document of the constitution, there is hope for getting Egypt back on track in its transition.

At a minimum, he should extend the time frame for the referendum to open the door for a real national debate. This would not only spare the divided nation from descending into violent chaos but would also save Morsy and his party. It is already evident that situation is only escalating, with more violent clashes Wednesday between supporters and opponents of Morsy in front of the presidential palace.

There is no guarantee that even this will regain stability or restore Morsy's legitimacy, but what is certain is that the longer he delays his response to the angry masses, the more irreversible the situation will be.

The political dynamics in Egypt have drastically changed since the revolution.

Foreign governments, particularly the U.S., should factor this into its approach to engaging with Egypt. This does not mean siding with one regime or playing one group against the other, but rather siding with the principles of freedom and democracy against oppression and authoritarian rule.

The Egyptians are still waiting for the Obama administration to match its fine words with actions.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nancy Okail.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT