Simon Kolawole: Egypt – From Arab Spring to Arab Fall

by Simon Kolawole

Simon Kolawole2

We can say Morsi has been successfully ousted as President of Egypt, but there is no assurance that the next president would be the messiah. What this development requires, then, is some perspective. Did Morsi fail? What could he have done better?

He looked at me straight in the eye, clearly agitated. “I swear by Allah,” he said, solemnly, “Hosni Mubarak was better than Mohamed Morsi. We regret voting for Morsi.” It was at a shop in Dubai a few months ago. The shop owner had introduced himself as our “African brother” while urging my wife to buy a pair of sunglasses from him. He told us he was from Egypt, and as it is my custom, I began to discuss local politics in his home country. So I asked if it was true that Egyptians were regretting deposing Mubarak through a revolution, the so-called Arab Spring, two years ago. His emphatic “yes” drew another question from me.
“You miss a dictator who ruled you for nearly 30 years?” I asked, cynically. And then he swore.

Whichever way you look at it, what happened in Egypt on Wednesday last week had elements of a tragedy. Morsi, the first elected president of the world’s biggest Arab country, was deposed in a bloodless coup carried out by opposition groups and their allies in the military. If you were a supporter of Morsi – which most Egyptian voters were, at least going by the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections two years ago – you would feel hard done by. How can a man whose party, the Freedom and Justice Party, won a democratic election be kicked out of power by the jackboots just like that? What else is required in a democracy but a rule by the majority, no matter how slim?

If you are on the side of the other Egyptians – the coalition of opposition groups who played a key role in the revolution but did not win enough votes to form government – you would think of Morsi in terms of tragic disappointment. When they all had a common enemy in Mubarak, they worked together to get rid of the “dictator”. But as soon as the common enemy left, Morsi took the reins of power and became the new “dictator”, assuming sweeping powers that were, theoretically, more than what Mubarak acquired in three decades. Egyptians began to realise that getting rid of a bad ruler is not the solution to all problems – the new man could be worse.

This is one of the reasons I am never over-excited about change in leadership: you never know what you’ll get. The next leader may be worse than the current one! But the human tendency is to think the current trouble is the worst possible – and then a new experience quickly dispels the notion. The British eagerly voted out the Labour Party three years ago. In less than two years, they became disenchanted as the Conservative Party’s coalition government with Liberal Democrats embarked on massive austerity measures. Latest polls show that if elections were held in the UK today, the Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband, will win. Yet, let’s be frank, there is no guarantee that Miliband would be a better Prime Minister than David Cameron.

We can say Morsi has been successfully ousted as President of Egypt, but there is no assurance that the next president would be the messiah. What this development requires, then, is some perspective. Did Morsi fail? What could he have done better? What are the implications of the military coup for the rest of Africa, Nigeria inclusive? In my view, Morsi was a victim of political and economic circumstances, which he miserably failed to master. He rode to power on the back of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. As soon as he became president, he failed to see himself as the leader of all Egyptians. He was held hostage by the clerics who sought to impose their political-cum-religious ideology on a country that made its name as a home for all.

But beyond the tortuous politics, Morsi also inherited an economically-challenged country. Unemployment, malnutrition and poverty were high – and these were not his making. However, his lack of political pragmatism meant he could not attract the kind of confidence and investment the economy needed. Rather, he moved from one crisis to the other and sought to pacify his backers rather than face the issues that would make life better for the citizens. Indeed, having received so much aid and support from countries such as Qatar and Turkey, Morsi had no new ideas of how to raise the needed finances to galvanise economic growth.

He had, within two years, depleted Egypt’s foreign reserves in trying to meet basic obligations. He was now left with the devil’s alternative of taking loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Unfortunately, we all know IMF: they asked Morsi to cut subsidies, which would have led to sharp increases in the prices of fuel and basic food items. Faced with tension in the polity and afraid of losing more support, he failed to ratify the IMF agreement because of the tough conditionalities. As the economy degenerated, and he continued to fiddle with the constitution, it was so easy for his opponents to mobilise against him. That clinically marked his end.

For me, these are the lessons, at least for the rest of Africa. One, expectations are a major challenge for democracy and politicians must understand this fact very well. Former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, once said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” It is one thing to say the sweet words to win an election; it is another thing to deliver the goods. African leaders must learn to manage expectations with pragmatism and skill. Morsi failed woefully in this regard. Two, democracy takes time to bed in. Egypt and many African countries are still in this transition phase. The first major step in democracy is holding regular elections. The next critical stage is imbibing a democratic culture. This usually takes time. We must be patient and engage the leaders constructively in this delicate phase. Calling for a coup could be counterproductive.

Two years was too short for Morsi to turn around the fortunes of Egypt. The Egyptians, rather than invite the military, should have waited for the next election to vote out Morsi. They have set a bad precedent – and I insist that there is no guarantee that the next president would be better. For how long, then, will the Egyptians rush to the Tahrir Square to ask for change of government? I suspect that fatigue will set in at some stage. They risk turning Tahrir Square to a circus. And rather than walk with a spring in their gait, they risk a severe fall.

And Four Other Things…

Last week, I wrote on the N6.2 billion SIM card registration executed by the National Communications Commission (NCC). The data collected, I alleged, are not accessible to the mobile networks, meaning NCC wasted billions of naira on what is essentially a scam. This is the update: two of my lines have been cut off by the networks which claim I have not registered them, even though I did so with the NCC. I am slowly starting a campaign to get the authorities to probe this deal. NCC needs to explain why it spent N6.2 billion collecting useless data. After that, I’ll take my next step…

I also wrote about impunity last week, and I received new evidence yesterday morning. I was trapped between the local and international wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, for nearly two hours. We were told some overfed Air Force guys were jogging and so the airport road was blocked. This would not happen even in Benin Republic. I saw hapless Nigerians trekking and sweating with their luggage to catch their flights. Anyone with half a brain knows that the Air Force could have properly diverted traffic or allowed vehicles to use the other half of the dual carriageway. When will Nigeria join civilisation?

The Federal Government seems serious about reducing the number of agencies and parastatals. We have been hearing this for ages and we hope we would finalise the streamlining (that is if the House of Representatives, the alternative government, will allow this). For one, I have never understood why we should have the Economic and Financial Crimes Corruption (EFCC) along with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). Don’t forget there is still a Special Fraud Unit in the Police Force! Complete waste of space.

There has been a lot of outcry over the planned imposition of a £3000 bond by the British government on Nigerians travelling to the country. Ghanaians, Indians and Sri Lankans are also to be affected. The stated aim is to prevent “defection”, which happens as visitors overstay their visas. I understand that some countries have actually been implementing this policy against Nigerians, meaning the British are only following a precedent. The truth, however, is that this will not stop defection. A Nigerian traveller can take a £3000 loan, defect and do Western Union to repay with interest much later.


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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. Well dat was @ good analytical write up…I am @ student of int’l relations,Obafemi Awolowo University…dat is jt half of d story…we in int’l rel tend 2 look at d external perspectives 2 an event or occurence..I guess those in pol sci are more concerned abt d internal..d truth is d WEST hav never been comfy abt an Islamist regime…IMF gave him tough conditions dat it neva gave 2 HOSNI..US still sent military aid of 2.6b dollars 2 Egypt in 2yrs.if d US truly care 4 democracy in Egypt,y not convert d money 4 economic purposes??..if d US can give 2.6b dollars in military aid,am sure she can loan Egypt 4.5b dollars needed 4 economic growth…n also d US democratic experiment in Iraq was @ failure,I think it wud hurt their pride n ego had morsi succeeded..d west likes 2 pride demself as @ beacon 4 democratic values..I wonder y there is still @ monarch in S.arabia,UK,Qatar….I think morsi’s ouster was part of ‘policy of containment’ in d mid-east…if morsi had succeeded,I think he wud hav back palestine n threaten Israel’s security…well morsi himself was stubborn,he was intoxicated by power..I guess he is an African afterall..(Sit tight dictatorial leaders of African)..wud not b suprised if HOSNI makes @ timely appearance on monday..

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