Egypt After Morsi 101

As Morsi's trial resumes, OpenCanada runs down what you need to know.
By: /
January 7, 2014
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UPDATED

It has been six months since the Egyptian military ousted Mohamed Morsi, ending the rule of the country’s first democratically elected president after two rocky years in power. Morsi has been a prisoner ever since, accused, along with 14 others, of inciting the murder of protestors in front of the presidential palace in December, 2012. He has also been accused of collaborating with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and militant groups that carried out a wave of terrorist attacks starting in 2005, as well as plotting prison breaks during the 2011 protests against Hosni Mubarak.

The trial for inciting murder started November 4th, 2013, but was formally adjourned due to the unruly behaviour of the defendants in the courtroom. Morsi, for his part, refused to even recognize the legitimacy of the court. That trial is set to resume January 8th, 2014 [but has now been postponed until February 1, after the helicopter that would have brought Morsi to the court was delayed by bad weather]. The trial related to the prison breaks has been set for January 28th, 2014.

In the six months since Morsi was toppled, Egypt has been in a constant state of political and social turmoil. Here we review the state of affairs in Egypt and beyond as Morsi returns to the courtroom.

What has happened to the Muslim Brotherhood?

After Morsi was removed from power, his supporters publicly protested the interim military government and called for Morsi’s reinstatement as president. This was met with a sever crackdowns by the military and many Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested. A court eventually banned “all activities” by the organization in September, 2013, and the government declared it a “terrorist organization” after the suicide bombing of a police station in December, 2013.

Some of the more notable Brotherhood leaders that were arrested include Mohammed Badie, the group’s supreme guide, and Mohammed al-Beltagi, secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. Their trial was halted for the second time after disruptions prevented the court from proceeding. The judges recused themselves from the proceedings, announcing the case would be transferred to a higher court. Mohammed el-Damati, a defense lawyer for the Brotherhood has criticized the trials for being politically motivated. 

Underground once again, Brotherhood members have, according to one report, abandoned “activities like preaching and social work” in order to “shift their attention to a virtually singular goal: resistance to the military-backed government.”

What do other Egyptians think of the interim government?

The man who ousted Morsi, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, remains very popular. The defense minister even won a readers poll for Time magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year.

In December, the head of Egypt’s outgoing constitutional drafting committee, Amr Moussa said that Sisi should run for president. Sisi himself has hinted that he will run for the job. If he does, he is expected to win.

When will those elections happen?

While the original elections roadmap set out by the interim government had called for parliamentary elections in early 2014 followed by a presidential election, but the timetable could be rearranged, meaning that Sissi could be president by April.

But before any elections can happen, Egypt needs a new constitution.

How is that going?

It was Morsi’s December 2012 Islamist constitution that sparked the largest protests against the Muslim Brotherhood. It was heavily criticized for upholding the role of Islam in public and private life, and restricting the freedom of speech and assembly.

The new draft is less Islamic, would commit Egypt to its obligations under international treaties, and is stronger on personal rights and freedoms. It will be voted on in a national referendum to take place on January, 14-15.

The Brotherhood has announced its intention to boycott the referendum. The Islamist Al-Nour Party, however, has urged Egyptians to vote ‘yes’ for the sake of stability while highlighting articles that guarantee Egypt’s religious identity.

So how stable is the country now?

There are still regular clashes between Morsi supporters and authorities, often resulting in deaths. Muslim Brotherhood supporters continue to march in the streets, a practice they vow to continue as the referendum approaches.

Elsewhere, Coptic Christians, who comprise 10 percent of the Egyptian population, have been targeted. Christians have been scapegoated by some for the fall of Morsi.

And in the relatively lawless Sinai Peninsula, security forces have come under attack from jihadists.

What do Egypt’s neighbours think about the situation?

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait all strongly support the new Egyptian government. The three countries committed a total of US$12 billion in aid – a mix of loans, grants, and oil subsidies – shortly after Morsi was overthrown. These Gulf states fear the power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkey and Qatar, in contrast, are far more sympathetic to the Brotherhood. While Morsi was in power, the three countries had strengthened relations. Qatar had doubled its financial aid during this period. After Morsi was disposed, the Turkish government called for his release, a position that led to the Turkish ambassador to Egypt being expelled. Qatar condemned the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters as “a prelude to a shoot-to-kill policy”.

While Israel is no friend to the Muslim Brotherhood, the country maintained relations with the Morsi government. Most commentators say that what Israel wants above all else is a stable Egypt. Since Morsi’s removal, the Israeli government has supported the interim government, seeing the Egyptian military as the only force capable of stabilizing the country. Israeli concerns about the growing jihadist activity in the Sinai led to an unprecedented approval of an increased Egyptian military presence east of the Suez Canal.

What about the West?

Washington has tried to walk a fine line regarding events in Egypt. The U.S. government refused to classify Morsi’s removal as a military coup, which would have automatically triggered the cancellation of the US$1.3 billion in aid it gives to Egypt. It did, however, trim that amount by $260 million and withheld the delivery of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters, and missiles in response to the crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood. It has also asked the Egyptian government to show restraint in dealing with protests and build new relations with the Brotherhood.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has called for the release of Morsi and his co-defendants. She has also called for an open political process in which all parties can participate. However, European aid programs to Egypt remain in place.

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird did call Morsi’s ouster a “coup”, but also said that there was a “substantial amount of support” for it and that Morsi was “accountable for his own actions”.

What is next for Egypt?

With Morsi’s trial for inciting murder set to continue on the 8th and a new trail for plotting prison breaks set to begin later in January, reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood seems unlikely.

If Sisi is elected president, it would likely further deepen divisions in the country. Whether Sisi will be able to return Egypt to relative stability, either through strong-arm tactics or reconciliation with Islamists, is the question.

Research by Jelena Djuric.