Those who try to identify a common thread in President Morsi's decisions will be disappointed. So far, his steady barrage of conflicting remarks has confounded friend and foe alike.
A day after Morsi went to Tahrir Square to take the oath of office, he repeated the same performance at the Constitutional Court. One day he put on a performance for the revolutionaries and the next he did the same for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But in both occasions, his reassurances seemed unsteady, and he offended many, included his friends in the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Tahrir, Morsi declared at the top of his voice that the revolution was continuing and that he would seek justice for the revolution's martyrs. Then he promised not to get into a power struggle with the SCAF. After which, he called on the US to release Omar Abdel-Rahman. Then he forgot to issue a decree releasing political detainees and civilians convicted by military courts, which he had pledged to do and is empowered to do so under the constitutional declaration.
Morsi pledged commitment to the separation of powers then turned around and challenged the judiciary by reinstating the parliament. He said nothing when supporters attacked protesters opposing the reinstitution of the parliament. Then, out of the blue, he said security was a “red line.”
Morsi comes across as someone devoted to the cause of revolutionary groups, until he starts flirting with the SCAF, or courting the Islamists.
Why is Egypt’s first elected president acting so erratically?
One reason is his feeling of isolation, said Assem Genedy, security specialist and chief of the Information Department at the People’s Assembly.
“One cannot expect President Morsi to remain loyal to the Brotherhood alone. The immense power of the SCAF, which controls the institutions of the so-called deep state, has to be taken into account,” Genedy stated.
President Morsi is torn between his ideological affiliation, his desire to placate the army, and his eagerness to please the revolutionary crowds. While trying to please everyone, Morsi runs the risk of alienating all.
According to Genedy, the SCAF is going out of its way to win Morsi over and has its own reasons for doing so. One is that it wants to protect the fabric of the state’s institutions, in the sense that it doesn’t want the Islamists to have unlimited power.
Also, the SCAF wants to keep the army and the country’s sovereign institutions away from any ideological or partisan hegemony. And the SCAF is also eager to keep the perks and privileges of its own members, once they retire from active service.
Will the SCAF succeed in winning Morsi over? Genedi believes so. For one thing, the SCAF is in charge of the country’s intelligence services, which provides essential information to help the president with his job.
Also, the SCAF still controls most institutions associated with the deep state, which means that it can make the president’s job considerably easier or harder. Also the SCAF is keeping a right of veto on presidential decisions “in cases of extreme necessity.”
Qadri Said, an expert with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, agrees with Genedy’s assessment.
According to Qadri, the conflicting remarks made by Morsi are alienating a lot of people. The things Morsi says to please the Islamists end up antagonising the liberals, and things that he says to satisfy the SCAF are likely to backfire.
Qadri concurs with Genedy’s opinion that the SCAF wants to win Morsi over. But he doesn’t think the SCAF is going to go on treating the president with kid gloves forever.
The Brotherhood has to be patient, Qadri said. If it plays its cards right, it may gain more power in the long term. But if it acts with haste, it may run into difficulties, he concluded.