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Morsy holds key to Egypt's future

By Ed Husain, Special to CNN
updated 11:59 AM EDT, Thu August 15, 2013
Protesters and Egyptian riot police clash in Cairo on January 17, as the country awaits the results of a constitutional referendum. On January 18, the electoral commission announced the constitution had overwhelmingly been approved. Protesters and Egyptian riot police clash in Cairo on January 17, as the country awaits the results of a constitutional referendum. On January 18, the electoral commission announced the constitution had overwhelmingly been approved.
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Photos: Egypt protests
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Husain: Many Egyptian protesters believe Morsy is the legitimate president
  • He says Morsy's son hinted his dad should step down, thus quelling unrest
  • Husain says Morsy stepping down would give Brotherhood face-saving exit
  • Husain: Brotherhood must be recognized; if Morsy goes, Egypt can move forward

Editor's note: Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of "The Islamist" can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain. This commentary has been updated from an earlier version.

(CNN) -- Egypt is aflame again. After seven weeks of warning of an imminent clampdown against sit-ins in support of deposed President Mohammed Morsy, the unelected and military-backed government is besieging civilian crowds to allegedly "restore democracy." Emotions are running high on both sides. Dialogue and negotiations are seen as weaknesses. Military might and forceful clearing of Egypt's public squares will not solve the country's deep political problems. The solution is with Morsy.

For the large numbers of Egyptians who protested in the heat while starving during the Ramadan month of fasting, Morsy remains the legitimate president of Egypt. And the violent and deadly clashes between security forces and protesters in Cairo will continue and many more lives will be lost unless we recognize and address this basic grievance.

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The protesters are being led by the Muslim Brotherhood. They will not abandon mass street protests, their "comfort zone" as they have said. Thousands have been injured in the past two months and almost 200 people killed. Egypt's economy will continue to tank, and political instability will haunt this ancient land. So what to do?

The clue came from Morsy's son Osama Morsy when he was interviewed by CNN recently.

Osama has rallied his father's supporters through public speeches. He knows the mood at the Rabaa El-Adawiyah rally and elsewhere in Egypt. He confirmed the standard views of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who oppose the recent military coup. But then he hinted at something: "Dad, you are the legitimate leader; you are the elected leader and elected president. We back any decision you take, even if you decided to leave the office."

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

This might seem odd to outside observers and anti-Morsy Egyptians, but to the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most-organized political force, Morsy is still the president of Egypt.

They still believe Morsy is in office, and unless he resigns, the protesters will not waver in their support for him. Security forces opening fire on the protesters or the military clearing the various public squares across Egypt only makes martyrs of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only way out of this impasse is for Morsy to resign from office to save Egypt from further instability and loss of life.

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If Morsy were to officially resign, the Brotherhood would no longer need to rally around an individual, one of their own, who has been humiliated and mistreated. Morsy's resignation also provides the Muslim Brotherhood with a face-saving exit from its entrenched position of "Morsy is to be reinstated" during their protests. If Morsy were willing to leave office, it would also illustrate to Egyptians his desire to prevent further loss of life, return Egypt to civility, end the country's national disunity and allow the Brotherhood to return to the political process through elections rather than disruptive protests.

Pro-Morsy camp digs in
Egyptians fear more bloodshed to come
Egypt's 'third square' movement

If the past five Egyptian elections are a guide, then the Muslim Brotherhood will most likely dominate future parliamentary contests.

By resigning, Morsy would strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood. Ending the emerging culture of street violence would help to discredit the military's claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is turning violent and therefore should be banned, a move that would spell disaster for Islamist political activists and fuel radicalism in the country.

In sum, the parallel universe in which the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership and supporters exist needs to be recognized. Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief of the European Union, has sought to be of help to Egypt, but she has not offered much leadership or vision. Egyptians do not need more news conferences and hurrying through meetings to catch a flight (as Ashton did).

Cooler heads within the Muslim Brotherhood must prevail in persuading Morsy to resign. Ashton and others can be helpful in negotiating their access to Morsy.

Why the bloodshed in Cairo?

Egyptian politics will not evolve from mass protests. Yes, Morsy deserved more time in office to rectify his errors. And yes, the coup was a tragic error. And yes, Egypt's political opposition is a shambles, the local media deeply biased, the judiciary corrupt and the military politicized.

The Muslim Brotherhood's task is not to uphold Morsy but to renew and reform Egypt's politics and economy by learning from Turkey's success. To do that, Morsy can help Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood move forward by submitting his official resignation urgently.

Follow CNN Opinion on Twitter.

Join the conversation on Facebook.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Husain.

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