Following Mohammed Morsi’s dramatic election as the first democratically elected president of Egypt, Fikra Forum editors sought to discover the reactions of young Egyptian revolutionaries and their views of the ongoing political transition in which they once played such a vital role. What do they see as primary impediments to a democratic transition? What are their short term and long term goals for the new Egyptian government? To address these fundamental issues, we asked a number of Egyptian students and youth activists the following questions:
1. What are your priority issues for Morsi’s first actions in office?
2. Do you have any fears of how Morsi and the incoming government will handle the continuing transition?
3. What are important benchmarks (or indicators) in assessing the success of the new Egyptian government?
The following remarks are excerpts from responses that we received. We hope to continue collecting such accounts from a variety of youth activists as they watch and judge the new government’s next steps. Though their revolutionary roles seem to be subsiding, as one respondent warned, “Tahrir square is not far away.”
What are your priority issues for Morsi’s first actions in office?
Khaled Essam Zaher [KES], master’s candidate in political science, founder of the Egyptian Reform Forum (ERF) in Alexandria: For me, my priority is the way in which Morsi will manage the conflict with SCAF, which will likely try to contain him by holding many of the presidential and legislative authorities and intervene in the work of the constitutional committee. I will also look to his ability to unite the revolution's powers rather than being reduced to deals with the SCAF, as has been used by the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to his ability to introduce himself as president for all Egyptians not only the Islamic trend, which will require removing worries of freedom of speech from all sectors of the Egyptian people.
Abdelrahman Al-Qadi [ARQ], medical doctor in Cairo: The priority issue for President Morsi is to unite the people. Because Morsi only won by 51%, this means that almost half of the people did not elect him and do not support him, but because we are a democracy, we should be united and not divided. The people should assist the new president with providing services to the citizens for the advancement of our beloved country. Another priority should be security and the traffic problem so that citizens feel an improvement in their daily lives. Lastly, the president should prioritize the protection of foreign relations and focus on creating an investment climate to produce more jobs.
Hanan Ragah [HR], master’s candidate in political science, political researcher specializing in parliamentary and electoral systems: I think that the main priority for the new president should be restoring his authority as president in order to have the ability to act freely without confronting obstacles that may impede his steps towards a democratic transition. We can draw from his speech to the media after he was declared first president of the second Egyptian republic, during which he stated that he is eager to fulfill the wishes of the Egyptian people that they called for in the great revolution: “bread, freedom, and social justice.”
The new president must construct government ministries according to the public’s needs, depending more on expertise than relying on trusted people from the brotherhood, as occurred in the Nasser era. Finally, he should read history very carefully and learn from lessons of former presidents lessons in order to not simply become an extended hand of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ahmed Ayman Ahmed [AAA], master’s candidate in political science, recently worked as a political researcher at the Center for Civilization Studies and Dialogue of Cultures: President Morsi’s priorities should address various audiences. In terms of domestic politics, the reality is that 48% of Egyptians who voted for Shafiq are very afraid of the Islamists who came to power (I describe them as suffering from Muslim Brotherhood phobia, or “Ikhwan-o-phobia”).
Accordingly, I believe that the main issue Morsi must consider is this fear among a significant portion of the population. He should therefore direct speeches to them, repeating comforting speech with short, clear phrases on a regular basis; hold meetings with the representative of the Coptic Church, making a new law to organize the process of building churches; act as an independent president by limiting his “clan’s” influence in circles of authority, restructuring the legal situation of the Brotherhood; and adopt austerity measures in government expenditures.
In order to satisfy the revolutionary powers that either supported Morsi or chose to boycott the elections, Morsi should issue an immediate decree to release the political prisoners arrested by SCAF. He must also refuse to take his oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Committee as a revolutionary act to confront SCAF’s absolute powers, in addition to selecting his advisors from a variety of geographical and cultural backgrounds.
As for foreign policy, Morsi should work on Egypt’s soft power efforts in neighboring countries and region. Therefore, he should visit Nile basin countries with the goal of convincing them that Egypt is part of Africa. He should also help Syrians at least by issuing an official declaration that Egypt supports their cause.
Esraa Mohammed Saleh [EMS], graduate of Cairo University: In my opinion, his first priorities should be taking good care of the families of the revolution’s martyrs, restructuring the ministry of interior affairs and the ministry of defense, and seeing a continuation of revolutionary trials for Mubarak and his old regime. Once this is done, we can start to feel real change take hold.
Do you have any fears of how Morsi and the incoming government will handle the continuing transition?
KES: The recent parliament experience is a bad indicator of how elected officials and institutions can lose the people’s support by failing to deal with the peoples’ demands. Similarly, fears arise surrounding the new president and government, as both still lack the authority to enact their plans, with SCAF’s domination of the political scene. I fear a potential crisis, which might affect the popularity of the president, leading to a loss of trust in elections as a stabilizing force that a majority of Egyptians seek.
One of my biggest fears is the absence of a plan to handle the continuing transition, in addition to fears of the incoming government which is dominated by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) without any representation of national figures. This could lead to clashes that can be used by the revolution’s enemies to undermine the ultimate goals of the revolution.
ARQ: My fear actually lies with the remnants of the old regime, who want the revolution to fail. However, we now have the ballot box, which will rule the Brotherhood or whoever will hold power after them. This means that if whoever is in power fails to act on his promises, voters will have the freedom not to elect him in the future.
HR: My only fear is that the new president may lose his commitment to the promises he made to the people to provide a dignified life for the average citizen who suffered greatly from the distorted reality under the former system.
We also fear that the transition period may not go in the right direction if real authority remains in the hands of the SCAF as our desired democratic transition fades under military rule. Another fear is that President Morsi may resort to the Muslim Brotherhood’s group order--based on the “Shura principle”—even if he is not a member. Proof of this is the fact that Morsi depends on Khairat el Shater, who is a member of the group, so it cannot be denied that he will still be connected with them even if he is not legally registered due to his political position.
Concerning the incoming government, we must wait and hope that it includes a variety of powers that represents all layers of the Egyptian community. We hope that it will act in the interest of the citizens and not in the interest of achieving individual benefits, as we witnessed during the former era.
AAA: My fears are related to the powers that could be given to SCAF if it is allowed to hold special ministries such as ministry of defense and foreign affairs, in addition to the expected tension between both the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF to dominate the country.
I also expect to witness attempts by SCAF to make Morsi a symbolic president, as they did to former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, which may lead to an attack on Morsi by the street in an attempt to overthrow him.
EMS: As I previously mentioned, Morsi does not satisfy me as a president, but he is the democratic choice of the people, regardless of their reasons for choosing him. I do, however, have deep worries about a changing cultural society in Egypt if, for example, many arts disappear under the pretext of Islamic principles or under the application of sharia law on non-Muslims. In this context, if any of us protest or challenge those presiding over the application of sharia law, they will consider it overruling the president, which is haram, or forbidden, according to their point of view.
What are important benchmarks (or indicators) in assessing the success of the new Egyptian government?
KES: The main indicator is the formation of the government, which should be a national coalition government that includes main figures and people who are supported by accepted political powers. The FJP’s Prime Minister should have a good vision for steps needed in the near future to prevent a single party government. The independence of the president in forming the government away from the intervention of the SCAF will reflect its functionality.
Lastly, the ability of the government to form an agenda relating mostly to the daily lives of people and their primary demands will reflect the ultimate success of the government in the future and its popularity.
ARQ: The indicators for the success of the new government will be in the ability to provide security and economic growth (increase in national income), the increase in productivity, the protection of freedoms, and the development of education and healthcare, which will therefore eliminate the triangle of disease, ignorance, and poverty.
HR: There are certain indicators that we can follow over time to be sure that the government is headed in the right direction. First, we can follow the government’s ability to decrease the percentage of youth unemployment in addition to its ability to achieve economic growth, accelerated investment in economic development, and the creation of new investments. In addition, we can assess the development of a health care system, insurance, and an education system. We should periodically monitor these developments through an accountability system.
AAA: The indicators for assessing the success of the new Egyptian government include: Purging old faces of the Mubarak regime from the media; Forming a government that includes all types in the political spectrum; Changing the public opinion toward Morsi; Installing revolutionary figures in positions of authority; The Brotherhood disassociating itself with Morsi and characterizing itself as a political opposition group, acting as transparent institution without mysterious structures ; SCAF residing under Morsi’s supervision; Diminishing of protests in Tahrir; The spread of security in the street; Forming a constitution that protects the civilian nature of the state
EMS: One important indicator in assessing the new government is the stability of the Egyptian stock market on the first day of Morsi’s presidential inauguration. In addition, we can watch for the way he speaks about Syria and Iran as indicators of his foreign policy. For starters, I think their program for managing the country in the first 100 days is good, but we have to wait and see before we judge. Tahrir square is not far away.