It is tempting to perceive the eerie recent demise of Mohamed Morsi – the first and, to date, only President of Egypt to have been propelled to that office by popular elections – as the final chapter of the abortive early twenty-first century democratic transition experienced by North Africa’s most populous nation. The ejection of Morsi – whose sudden death at the time of his trial for alleged espionage was apparently avoidable – by means of a violent military coup on 3rd July 2013 was an act which has defined the country’s political trajectory ever since.
This perception has been made easier by the fact that Morsi’s removal – which cannot easily be defended in the context of democracy – was nevertheless a broadly popular one. The bespectacled engineer – who was an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge from 1982 to 1985 – essentially became the fall guy for a movement which somehow conspired to blow a position of political dominance within an exceptionally short time-frame; indeed, there are few parallels to the implosion of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party in the canon of political science.
However, such an evaluation lacks perspective. While Egypt’s nascent democracy has been shattered and authoritarian rule is back with a vengeance, on closer examination the ghost of Mohamed Morsi is discernible in at least three key ways:
- Magic money trees. The Egyptian government’s embarking upon an all-out infrastructure splurge – new metro lines in Cairo, the gradual introduction of a serious universal healthcare policy and an entire new administrative capital – is a clear signal that the ruling elite is now at least somewhat aware that the proffering of a Faustian pact is a de minimis governance proposition
- Technocratic competence. In the absence of meaningful elections, current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (‘Sisi’) has placed strong emphasis on the appointment of educated experts to appropriate portfolios in the name of macroeconomic stability; a significant weakness of the Morsi administration was the relative lack of attention paid to rational policy formulation.
- Identity crisis. Tellingly, Sisi has also co-opted Islamist identity politics, with markers of ostensible piety – such as the headscarf – richly in evidence even amongst his own family. This is nothing if not an ironic nod to the Freedom and Justice Party, but it also serves to highlight one of that organisation’s central flaws: an obsession with pseudo-religious symbolism. Its eventual successors must transcend this if they are to have a chance of contributing to a more sustainable political economy.