Once election allies, Egypt's 'Fairmont' opposition turn against Morsi

Salma Shukrallah, Thursday 27 Jun 2013

In June 2012, a coalition of opposition parties and movements pledged support for Egypt's new president at the Fairmont Hotel. Disillusioned 12 months later, they are joining 30 June protests against Morsi

Opposition figure Hamdi Qandil reads out statement supporting Mohamed Morsi and naming conditions for support on 22 June 2012 at the Fairmont hotel in Cairo's Heliopolis (Photo: Ikhwan Online)

Just days before his inauguration, in mid-June 2012 tens of leading opposition figures met at Cairo's luxurious Fairmont Hotel and declared their support for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi who against Ahmed Shafiq, seen as the symbol of the old regime and its military-based rule, had just won the presidency according to preliminary results.

Familiar revolutionary faces present included Wael Ghoneim, the administrator of the "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook page that called the 25 January 2011 protests that led to a national uprising, Ahmed Maher, founding member of April 6 Youth Movement, writer Alaa Al-Aswany, among others.  

The decision to back the Brotherhood candidate was not without conditions.

At the historic meeting, Nasserist opposition figure Hamdi Qandil read out several demands they expected Morsi to fulfil in order to secure the support of the opposition crowd. However, with few of their requirements met, one year later many from the "Fairmont Group," as they became known, are now joining efforts to oust the president.

“It is my duty to strongly campaign against President Morsi, because I am responsible for convincing many to support him,” Fairmont Group and Constitution Party member Shady El-Ghazaly Harb told Ahram Online.

The reason for backing Morsi, Harb explains, was to achieve national unity against Hosni Mubarak's regime, even though at the time many slammed the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as “opportunist” as it had “struck a deal with the military for power."

The three main conditions for their support included that Morsi guarantee national cooperation and launch a "national unity project." Morsi was also to form a "national salvation government" that included representatives from all political forces and was headed by an independent political figure. Finally, his presidential team had to reflect Egypt's diverse political arena.

“He (Morsi) agreed because he believed the elections results would be rigged in favour of Shafiq and so he needed to create a front of support,” opines Ahmed Imam, a Fairmont Group member from the moderate Islamist Strong Egypt Party.

On 18 June 2012, just before the election results were announced, the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a constitutional declaration stripping the president of several powers and awarding them to the military. This included the right to declare war as well as transferring legislative authorities from the dissolved People's Assembly to the military council.

Activists panicked, Imam explains, and so sent a delegation to the Brotherhood candidate calling on Morsi to withdraw and not compete for the presidency under such conditions.

“In the meetings [with Morsi] we were told the Brotherhood had no intention of withdrawing from the elections," says Imam. Instead, he continues, they were asked to support Morsi against Shafiq in order to combat the military and "its plan to rig the results."

“We were left with no choice ... Shafiq’s success would have symbolised the end of the revolution,” April 6 Movement co-founder Ahmed Maher says, adding that from the beginning the group had been trying to convince "revolutionary presidential candidates" to unite behind one figure so that the opposition was not divided. "But they all refused," he said.

According to Maher, the failure of the revolutionary movement to decide on one candidate left them the choice of either backing the Brotherhood candidate or the perceived candidate of the military (Shafiq).

“We made the choice [to back Morsi] given the circumstances,” Maher says.

According to Imam, several meetings were held with a number of pro-revolution groups, but not all agreed to sign the document declaring support for Morsi.

“The only demand that the Brotherhood had reservations on was appointing a prime minister who is not affiliated with the Islamist group," Imam explains. "After we threatened to withdraw, they (the Brotherhood) agreed."

In practice, however, none of the demands were met, Fairmont Group members say.

The National Front for the Protection of the Revolution, a coalition of opposition groups which included a number of the Fairmont Group, and that also backed the president, held several conferences in the months after Morsi took power at which they said he failed in his promises.

The turning point, according to many of the front’s members, was the appointment of Hisham Qandil as prime minister and his government.

Qandil, Harb believes, is "nothing but a Muslim Brotherhood secretariat."

The choice of premier and his ministers, the Fairmont Group says, did not meet the promise of fair political representation. Neither was it clear what criteria was used to appoint them.

The presidential team, they say, was no different.

Harb argues that Morsi "randomly" appointed to the presidential team people from those who supported him but were not in the Brotherhood, like well-known writer Sekina Fouad (a Fairmont Group signatory), and Hamdi Qandil.

"However, those making the real decisions were those close to the Guidance Bureau (the Muslim Brotherhood's executive council)," Harb says.

The presidential team, Harb believes, was a façade.

On the other hand, member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Ahmed Oqeil, who was also a member of the Fairmont group when it was first launched, for his part disagrees.

“I think they [the opposition members] expected more than what was realistic” says Oqeil.

For example, he told Ahram Online, those appointed as presidential advisors expected that all their views would be incorporated into the decisions the president makes while that is unrealistic.

“The advisor makes the recommendations and the president makes the decisions weighing a lot of other different factors and views...he is not expected to follow any advice given to him by the presidential team” says Oqeil.  

According to Oqeil, all the promises made by the president to the Fairmont team were met. The appointed PM, Hisham Qandil, was a technocrat and not an FJP member and the presidential team was diverse.

However, Harb continues, key and unpopular decisions made by  Morsi were the main factor why his presidential team started to shrink, with members resigning in protest.

By April 2013, there were only nine left in his team from a starting number of 17 political advisors and four aides. Of those nine, five were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rest largely Islamist allies.

Most resignations came after a controversial constitutional declaration of 22 November 2012 that awarded the president sweeping powers and made his decisions immune to judicial appeal. It also made the Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council and Constituent Assembly exempt from dissolution.

The decree triggered a huge backlash and saw nationwide protests.

“The constitutional declaration revealed the ugly face of the president,” says Harb.  

Another thorny issue was the constitution, which was ratified shortly after the declaration, adds April 6’s Maher.

Maher, who was a member of the constitution-drafting body until September 2012, says the Brotherhood "agreed on everything proposed by the opposition at first, until by September and October they started saying there was no such thing as a consensual constitution ... That's when I resigned.”

The death of young April 6 activist Gaber "Jika" Salah was another turning point to Maher. “Jika was the first martyr under the rule of Morsi. Jika had supported him in the final round of elections and voted for him.”

Jika, 16, was shot by police in the head and chest during November protests in Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Street — a flashpoint area just off Tahrir Square — marking the anniversary of massive protests on the same street in 2011 ahead of legislative elections.

Later Maher himself was arrested, on 10 May 2013, for allegedly inciting demonstrations against the interior minister.

Tens of April 6 members were also arrested and detained for participating in demonstrations.

With its members turning opposition the Fairmont group, later dubbed the National Front for the Protection of the Revolution, eventually withered.

Still, FJP’s Oqeil believes “The Fairmont group failed due to miscommunication and a gap that grew as demonstrations against the president grew”

“Some [Fairmont group members] were pressured by opposition to change their stand...a lot of pressure was exerted” asserts Oqeil.  

The front that supported Morsi has since faced much criticism from opposition groups.

However, many of those who backed Morsi argue that they played an important role in “exposing” the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The creation of the front was useful in that it has clearly set out the camps ... After the Mubarak regime and the military comes the Brotherhood,” says Maher, speaking of a third wave of opposition.

The problem with having supported Morsi, on the other hand, Harb opines, is that the Brotherhood president was given a “revolutionary legitimacy that he did not deserve."

“He was falsely portrayed as symbolising the revolution,” Harb says regretfully.

One year on, those that formed the Fairmont Group and the National Front for the Protection of the Revolution that backed Morsi are now joining calls for mass demonstrations against Morsi on the anniversary of his inauguration.

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