Egyptian president who failed to grasp reality of power

Because Mohamed Morsi was more and more alone, he started living in this bunker mentality

Just two months after his election last year as president, Mohamed Morsi was riding high. The Islamist politician once derided as a "spare tyre" had helped broker a peace deal between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, taken bold trips to China and Iran, and managed to outmanoeuvre Egypt's long-dominant generals to push the military out of politics. His approval rating reached 60 per cent.

But in seven months Mr Morsi went from a standard-bearer of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, embraced, albeit reluctantly, by a critical sliver of liberals and leftists, to a man being hounded out of office.

Huge forces and interests were aligned against him, and the moribund economy was in many ways beyond his control. But observers say he was also the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.

"In the end, if you look at the whole picture, he was doomed from the beginning," said Stephane Lacroix, an expert on political Islam and Egypt at the Paris Institute of Political Science, or Sciences-Po.


“Structurally, there was so much resistance to him from the security apparatus, the judiciary, the media; he would have needed to have been extremely bright and consensual to appease the various forces,” he said. “But he did exactly the contrary. He said, ‘I’m the president and I can do what I want.‘ He didn’t realise he was in a very weak position.”

Analysts and opposition activists trace Mr Morsi's downfall to his constitutional declaration last November, when he placed his government above judicial scrutiny and granted himself extraordinary powers in writing the constitution. He later rescinded the decree in the face of mass protests.

But the move itself, along with a violent attack by his supporters on a protest camp, destroyed the trust of a vital constituency of liberals and leftists.

“When he issued his constitutional coup, he was addressing his own crowd, saying we have to act fast, saying something like, ‘We will eat them at lunch before they roast us for dinner’,” said Nervana Mahmoud, a commentator on Egyptian affairs. “He failed to see that he was alienating the group of liberals who voted for him.”

From then on, the presidents’s circle narrowed as all but his Islamist allies abandoned him, resigning from his cabinet and from a 100-member commission that was drawing up a constitution.

He appointed Brotherhood loyalists to positions in the central government, the provinces and the upper chamber of parliament, which became the effective legislative body after courts dissolved the lower house. “Because Morsi was more and more alone, he started living in this bunker mentality,” said Mr Lacroix.

Another mark against him came when he and his allies held a referendum on a constitution many felt was deeply flawed, despite protests from the opposition. The Brotherhood's political machinery turned out a 64 per cent victory but voter turnout was only 36 per cent, which experts warned gave the document little credibility. One analyst described Mr Morsi's rule as "ballotocracy" – the view that winning an election gives a president the right to dictate.

The economy continued to falter, angering the mass of breadwinners who were not recipients of public sector salary rises but bore the brunt of rising prices.– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013