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One year on, has Morsi mastered the tools of authority?

January 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Two proverbs are worthy of our consideration: “A king can only prevail with his soldiers,” is one, and “the heart of authority is the ability to determine and implement punishment” is the other. Where does Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi stand a year into his rule with regards to authority and the foot-soldiers at his disposal, both within and outwith the Muslim Brotherhood?

In all democracies, soldiers protect the legitimacy of the people’s electoral choices. They are, or should be, at the government’s command. In Egypt, though, this is not so clear cut. The army claims to side with the people but there is uncertainty about whether this means those who support democratic choice or those who seek to undermine it. The head of the army has given the politicians “48 hours” to sort out the current chaos; or what? We don’t know, but we can guess. It would appear that President Morsi, despite his democratic legitimacy, actually has little or no control over the armed forces.

It is important to remember that for the past sixty years it has been ingrained into the army to regard the Muslim Brotherhood as the enemy, to be kept away from power at all costs. Such a culture cannot change completely overnight.

The second proverb concerns the ability of the head of state to determine and implement punishments. Most of the time we are faced with leaders who cannot determine punishments and don’t have the tools to implement them in any case as the armed forces and judiciary are beyond their control. In a democracy, of course, the judiciary should be independent of the executive but subject to its laws and ready to implement them. In Egypt, even that is not always happening, with criminals all too often freed to continue with their illegal activities.

Morsi’s grip on power and the tools of power are, therefore, extremely weak. There is no effective deterrent for wrongdoers, including those who wish to undermine democratic choices. Coupled with the president’s woefully slow indecision and his weakness is more apparent. His decrees carry little weight and his opponents can and do ignore them with impunity.

Hence, we see the president mention individuals by name in his speeches, accusing them of this crime or that, and yet they walk free and are not charged with anything. Is that the hallmark of a strong president? It has driven away many of Morsi’s supporters and suggests that he is incapable of accommodating people. His limited inner circle is made up mostly of Brotherhood members.

This has led to many of those with experience of government to distance themselves from the president and reject calls from Morsi to participate. They don’t believe that he has mastered the tools of power and have distanced themselves so that their fingers don’t get burnt. As Morsi stands alone at this time, is he considering a fresh start? For Egypt’s sake, we can only hope so.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.