Posted on June 17, 2013 in Washington Watch
June 30th marks Mohamed Morsi's first anniversary as President of Egypt. It is also the date set for nationwide demonstrations protesting Morsi's increasingly authoritarian leadership and the role his Muslim Brotherhood is playing in post-Tahrir Egypt.
The organizing effort for June 30th is called "Tamarrod" (rebel). They have, at last report, collected over 15 million signatures on petitions endorsing their protest movement and are convening nationwide organizing meetings in preparation for the big day. Expectations are running high that Tamarrod may replicate the government-changing events of January/February 2011.
It remains to be seen whether this movement succeeds or fizzles, but what its early successes reflect is the fact that the Morsi government is in deep trouble. A recently completed poll of 5,029 Egyptians adults, conducted by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) found that Morsi, his government, and party have, in fact, suffered a dramatic loss of support and legitimacy.
One year ago, despite having been elected by a minority of eligible voters, Mohamed Morsi was being given the benefit of the doubt by a majority of all Egyptians—with 57% saying his victory was either “a positive development” or “the result of a democratic election and the results need to be respected.”
Today, that support has dropped to only 28%, with almost all of it coming from those who identify with his Muslim Brotherhood party. And yet despite this narrow base of support, the president and his party now hold most of the levers of executive and legislative decision-making authority and are using them to crack down on the press, civil society, and most forms of dissent. In addition, there are worrisome signs of still more over-reach by the presidency. As a result, over 70% of the electorate now express concern that “the Muslim Brotherhood intends to Islamize the state and control its executive powers.”
What emerges from the ZRS findings is a portrait of a post-Tahrir Egypt in crisis with a deeply divided electorate. The poll shows that the major opposition groups (the National Salvation Front and the April 6th Movement) combined have a somewhat larger potential support base than the governing parties. The opposition, though repeatedly out-organized in elections by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, can claim the confidence of almost 35% of the adult population. The remaining almost 40% of the population, while holding political views identical to those of the opposition, appear to have no confidence in either the government or any of Egypt's opposition parties. They are a “disaffected plurality.”
This loss of confidence in the government can be seen in the responses to every question asked in the ZRS survey, with an overwhelming majority of Egyptians expressing disapproval of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and dissatisfaction with their policies and performance in: drafting and embracing what is seen as a flawed constitution-writing process; and failing to provide economic opportunity, needed services, guaranteeing personal freedoms, and keeping the country safe. In each of these areas, only about one-quarter of the electorate expresses some degree of approval with the actions of the government, while almost three-quarters disapprove. In each instance, the support for the government comes almost exclusively from those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, while the rest of the population is nearly unanimous in their disapproval.
What also comes through quite clearly is that the opposition to Morsi suffers from a crisis in leadership and organization. Of the nine living Egyptian figures covered in the ZRS poll (including all those who ran for president and/or who lead opposition political parties), none are viewed as credible by more than a third of the electorate, with most seen as credible by only a quarter. Only Bassem Yousef, a popular TV satirist who has been indicted by the government and charged with insulting the "presidency" and Islam, is viewed as credible by a majority of Egyptians.
While division defines much of the poll’s findings, there were a few areas where consensus could be found. Interestingly, the late president Anwar Sadat won extremely high ratings from all groups—Islamists, secular oppositionists, and the "disaffected". More significantly, the army also receives strong approval ratings from all sectors and parties—an overall 94% positive rating—with the judiciary following closely behind. These two institutions have, at times, acted as buffers muting the presidency’s tendency to over-reach. But while a majority of supporters of the opposition parties and the “disaffected” would like the army to play a larger role, there is not strong overall support for military intervention in civil affairs.
What to do next? Immediate elections for a new parliament are supported by the Islamic parties. But this idea is rejected by most other Egyptians, with a substantial majority saying that they do not believe that new elections would be fair or transparent. The opposition, and a majority of the electorate, strongly favors scrapping the constitution. But this is rejected by supporters of the main Islamic parties.
The only proposal that receives near unanimous support from all groups is the convening of "a real national dialogue"—though it remains to be seen what such a dialogue might accomplish given the polarization that currently exists.
So one year after Mohamed Morsi's victory, Egypt is in crisis. The economy is in shambles, rights are being eroded, and a minority-supported party controls the power over a deeply fractured polity. Into this arena comes the Tamarrod movement and its attempt to unite the opposition and organize the disaffected in a last ditch effort to force needed change. It remains to be seen what June 30th will bring, but regardless of the outcome, it will be a momentous day in Egypt's contemporary political development.
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