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The Tumultuous Presidency of Mohamed Morsi
July 3, 2013

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In the end, having 51.7 percent of the vote wasn't enough to keep Mohamed Morsi in power as the fifth President of the Egyptian Republic. He had the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party he once led. But he didn't gain even a modest amount of support from his political opponents or even people who had no real political allegiance. And, more significantly, Morsi lost the support of the army.

Morsi, a U.S.-educated professor, was not the Brotherhood's first choice to succeed Hosni Mubarak as President, after the latter fled following 18 days of massive and at times uproarious demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in other cities large and small. In the first free elections that anyone could remember, the Brotherhood had nominated Khairat El-Shater as their standard-bearer. But a technicality (too much foreign blood in his DNA) derailed El-Shater's candidacy, and the Brotherhood turned to Morsi, eventually throwing their full support behind him and carrying him to victory over a number of other more high-profile candidates, including former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, a Mubarak appointee.

It was the case also that the Mubarak appointees were numerous in the judiciary, against which Morsi struggled mightily to maintain legislative momentum in pursuing a new constitution and a newly elected Parliament. In June 2012, the Supreme Constitutional Court disbanded Parliament. A few weeks later, Morsi ordered Parliament to return. A few months, later he announced wide-reaching powers for himself as head of the government. Among those powers was exemption of him and his pronouncements from further judicial rulings. This decree was, Morsi said, intended to facilitate the completion of a new constitution. That governmental blueprint was completed in November and approved by referendum in December. The vote was 64 percent in favor of the new constitution. Only 33 percent of the registered voters took part in the referendum, after opposition leaders urged a boycott. Once the constitution was in place, Morsi then annulled his decree. In the meantime, though, the tide in the street had turned against him.

Morsi had in August showed a strong hand in gaining the resignation of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, who was the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the de facto head of government between Mubarak's ouster and Morsi's election. Also resigning was Sami Anan, the army chief of staff. Accompanying these resignations was an announcement by Morsi that he would no longer be bound by a SCAF-ordered restriction of presidential powers. The officer he named to replace Tantawi as defense minister was Abdul Fattah el-Sisi.

In the end, Morsi was left trying to negotiate with two hard-line factions on the opposite ends of the political and religious spectrums. He had resigned as President of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, but he was still strongly associated with the Brotherhood and was unwilling to expand the government to include elements that were not in the majority. In his last public speech before his ouster, he reiterated his claim that he was the legitimate ruler of the country, as mandated by a popular election that he had won. The same was to be true for Parliament, he asserted. The one sitting house of Parliament had a majority of Islamist members, as elected by a majority of voters. The opposition had urged a boycott of those elections as well. Morsi's promise of appointing as Vice-president a Christian or a woman also went unfulfilled: The man he eventually appointed, Mahmoud Mekki, was a Muslim, who resigned in December 2012.

All of the political turmoil meant that the economy continued to be anemic. The International Monetary Fund still hasn't approved a long-anticipated $4.8 billion loan, asserting that Egypt still hasn't met certain conditions, including political stability. Lines for basics for bread and gasoline have become longer and longer in recent weeks. As well, the country has still not recovered from a drop in tourism after the revolution that drove away Mubarak.

The opposition to the government of Morsi and the Brotherhood continued to grow throughout the first half of 2013, with more people speaking out more publicly. Mohamed El-Baradei, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, emerged as one of the leading voices of the National Salvation Front, a political grouping of the opposition forces arrayed against the Islamist-dominated government. One of the opposition's chief complaints was the increasing presence of Islamic law within the country's laws, as passed by the Islamist majority led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafis. The number of protesters, not just in Cairo but in Alexandria and elsewhere across the country, swelled into the millions in the last days of Morsi's presidency. The protesters threw in their support with the army, which reciprocated that support. As announced by Sisi, the man Morsi had appointed to head the army, the new government consisted of an interim head of state, the Supreme Constitutional Court head Adly Mansour, and a civilian advisory council of three people: El-Baradei and two religious leaders, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyib, and the Coptic Pope, Theodoros II.

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