What happens if President Mursi is removed?

Omar Ashour
Omar Ashour
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“The Presidency is taking some practical steps for activating the national reconciliation…We note that the statement of the High Command of the Armed Forces (HCAF) was not revised by the President…Some of the words in that statement could baffle the national scene.” This was a statement issued by the Egyptian Presidency in the early hours of July 2. It basically says: that president will resist a coup. And both sides have support on the ground.

“In the name of 22 million citizen[s]…we declare that Mohammed Mursi is no longer the legitimate President of Egypt…we call on the institutions of the state, the army, the police and judiciary to side with the popular will,” declared the first “revolutionary” statement of the Tamarod movement. The movement was one of several that organized massive protests that took place on June 30, 2013; the first anniversary of the free elections that brought Egypt its first-ever civilian president.

The diverse and decentralized anti-Mursi movement was not only able to mobilize hundreds of thousands in Egyptian streets, but also to storm and burn down the headquarters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the Muqqatam district of Cairo. The question now is what happens next? And what impact will these developments have on the shaky democratization process in Egypt?

The rugged path to the current point was not improbable. Mursi did win with 51.7%. And the remaining 48.3% includes very powerful rivals, including former regime figures. The annulled November 2012 constitutional declaration, that gave Mursi sweeping powers and allegedly aimed at protecting the elected institutions from a politicized judiciary, had incited strong opposition from many of the revolutionary forces that helped to overthrow Mubarak as well as from Mubarak’s loyalists.

If Mursi survives, he will have to rely on the army as a guarantor of safety and of the whole unfolding political process, as well as on his supporters to mobilize.

Omar Ashour

Additionally, the lack of tangible “quick wins” on the street level fuelled the anger against the incumbent president. The average Egyptian citizen heard wild promises from all of the presidential candidates, and he or she did expect delivery from the incumbent. The lack of significant achievement, such as resolving the gas and the electricity crises, did help in the massive anti-Mursi mobilization. The incompetence mattered.

But this is not to say that the President is without any achievements or supporters. On the democratic front, the culling of the leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in August 2012 stands as a reminder. On the economic front, the March 2013 Egyptian Central Bank report (which covers July 2012 to March 2013), shows that the overall balance of payment deficit went down from $11.2 billion to $2.1 billion. The causes include a rise in tourism revenues (from $7.1 billion to $8.1 billion), as well as writing off debts. This however did not trickle down to the average citizen and there was no effective media and communication strategy to politically capitalize.

The president is also not without supporters. Compared to the hundreds that showed up to support the fraudulently elected Mubarak during the revolution, hundreds of thousands did gather in Rab‘a al-‘Adawiyya square near the presidential palace to show solidarity for Mursi.

So what happens next? The scenarios are not many. If he survives, he will have to rely on the army as a guarantor of safety and of the whole unfolding political process, as well as on his supporters to mobilize. But the HCAF is not on his side at the moment. And even if it was, this means putting the army at the forefront of politics again, losing the gains of August 2012, and giving the ultimate political say to the ones carrying arms, not the ones casting votes. The mobilization of supporters is also risky.

If elements of the opposition have relied on political violence, elements of the loyalists have a history of violence that they have been trying to abandon. The revolutionary gain of transforming once-armed Islamists to electoral and constitutional politics can be lost in this unsavoury power struggle.


If the president does not survive, the scenarios will depend on how he gets removed. Certainly the pattern of removing an elected institution with support on the ground by a mix of street mobilization and army intervention does not lead to positive outcomes. Military dictatorships, civil wars, or both are usually the result. Spain in 1936, Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, Turkey in 1980, Sudan in 1989, Algeria in 1992 and Tajikistan in 1992 highlight the processes quite well.

But there is also a “de Gaulle style” exit. The scenario of France in May 1968 features calling for early (parliamentary) elections and then try to come back stronger, as the Gaullists did in June and July 1968. The problem is that Mursi does not have de Gaulle’s background, and the chaotic transition of Egypt in 2013 is far behind the French consolidated democracy in 1968. The persecution and witch-hunting of the Gaullists was quite unlikely then, but already a declared goal by several opposition figures in the case of Mursi and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. For the latter, part of their resistance is about survival and the lack of a credible guarantor in Egypt’s jungle-like political scene.

Optimism for Egypt’s democratization is difficult at the moment.

Dr. Omar Ashour is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies and Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. He is the author of The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements and From Good Cop to Bad Cop: The Challenge of Security Sector Reform in Egypt.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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