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 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT