Given the martial law and brutal crackdown on protests imposed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) before Egypt’s 2012 elections, it is incredible to fathom how Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood managed to alienate the Egyptian public enough for his opponents to welcome the return of military rule. In fact, there’s a strong chance that Morsi, in his blatant abuse of power and reliance on Mubarak-era state of emergency, defamation, and media laws, has wrought the political death of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during his short year in office.
In 2012, many Egyptian liberals turned the other cheek and voted for Morsi in the run-off elections against Ahmed Shafik for fear of creating another military despot from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which had monopolized the Egyptian government for decades. These secularists were no doubt instrumental in allowing Morsi to win the elections with a slim majority of 51.7% of the vote.
Despite his slim margin of victory, Morsi behaved as though he had a mandate to act as an absolute ruler, appointing an Islamist majority to write the new constitution and using it as an opportunity to impose Sharia law (or biblical law for Egyptian Copts), to the detriment of women’s rights. Thus, the liberals who propelled Morsi to the presidency in the run-offs were faced with their two greatest anathemas: not just a Mubarak style despot, but an Islamist one at that. Cue the Tamarod [rebel] movement’s petition, massive protests in Cairo, and its ultimate support for a military coup.
Morsi has also alienated Egypt’s hard line Salafists for failing to give them more power after drafting the constitution, prompting the Nour Party to publicly endorse the military’s intervention and its latest proposal for an interim prime minister – the politically neutral economist Samir Radwan. The Nour Party’s public rift with Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party marks the first official split in the Muslim Brotherhood, with the potential for more fracturing to continue in the future.
If the military wants to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood remains politically obsolete, it must steady its hand, respect Egyptians’ civil rights, and reinstate elections as soon as possible. The army’s recent shooting at a sit in prompted the Nour Party to withdraw from talks for the interim prime minister on Tuesday, although the army contends that Islamist extremists had infiltrated the demonstrators and attacked soldiers. Nonetheless, the military also faced accusations of firing at protesters during the initial coup and has partially denied the right of the people to peaceably assemble by warning against “excessive protests.”
Should the Egyptian army continue to repress protesters, they will encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to unite in spite of their internal wrangling. Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood is relevant in Egypt’s political future is dependent on the military’s behavior as Egypt’s interim caretaker.