Editorial: Morsi Than Meets The Eye

Jewish Light Editorial

The so-called Law of Unintended Consequences — which of course is no law at all, but a phrase meant to describe how decisions in complex systems have varied and unpredictable results — is raging in Egypt right now, and President Mohammed Morsi is at the convergence of the unfolding plot.

The fallout from the Arab Spring continues in myriad ways, some of which were greatly expected, others not so much. Egypt has been front and center in the social and cultural revolution, with the former president and military leader Hosni Mubarak and his minions drawing the greatest ire from the populace. The ascension of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed bloc looked like the beginnings of an Islamist regime that would be strongly anti-Zionist and more enabling of a radicalization of Egyptian society.

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But in the short time that Morsi has been at the helm, the number and rate of transformations has been astounding. Much of it, including his firebrand rhetoric in support of Hamas and critical of Israel, and the prosecution of Mubarak and his lieutenants, has had the intended effect of firing up his core constituencies. No big surprises there.

It could hardly have been foreseen, however, that a Morsi barely schooled in foreign policy leadership could play a constructive part in reducing the boil of the recent Israeli-Palestinian battles. When he traveled to Gaza to meet with Hamas leadership, initially espousing the conventional anti-Israel line, there was no hint that his involvement could help.

Yet by the time the cease-fire occurred, he was receiving public notes of appreciation for his role, including thanks from the United States. While far more experienced politico Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was blasting Israel for “ethnic cleansing” and hurling other hateful hyperbole, Morsi emerged as at least someone who the U.S. could engage with to promote Israel’s position, interest and needs, and who appeared to understand his nation’s need for Western alliances, even if they cut into his political and philosophic core.

Then in the blink of an eye, what Morsi gained with his diplomacy he trashed domestically. As part of the evolution to a new constitution, Morsi attempted to steal away power by claiming freedom from judicial review and recalling the violent autocracy that marked Mubarak’s leadership.

Not so fast, said the people of Egypt. While his hardcore adherents may not have minded, the Egyptian left — those who put the goal of true democracy over hardcore religious and cultural interests — has spoken and protested with a vengeance, insisting that there’s no way Egypt will return to the days of political persecution, rampant favoritism and fraud, and ostentatious lifestyles for its government rulers.

One only need read the reporting and analysis to see that Egypt is torn amidst a variety of factions. In Tuesday’s New York Times piece, for instance, “Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-leaning nationalist and another losing presidential candidate, argued that the protests were an expression of accumulated resentments against rule by the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood. Before the president’s decree, ‘Egypt has already been in crisis because the revolution has not achieved its goals,’ he said at the opposition news conference. ‘The forces that participated and finished the revolution and created the community of Tahrir Square were set aside, and one group was singled out.’”

So the protests continue, despite Morsi’s attempt to roll back some of his staunchly anti-democratic pronouncements. The level of distrust of the new regime is high, and the potential for lasting impact by groups other than the Muslim Brotherhood remains.

This ever-changing canvas reflects the region’s continuing seismic shifts — sudden, sharp and unpredictable. For instance, we saw pro-Western, pro-democratic sentiments in Libya on the heels of the murders of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and his fellow diplomats. We witnessed tens of thousands of Libyans turn out in protest against the killings, as Stevens was well respected as a friend and supporter of the Libyan people. And we have no idea what the landscape of Syria will be when the horrific bloodshed ends and a new ruling coalition is determined.

So it continues with Arab Spring. There’s little way to see where things are going and where they will land. It’s as though a pea-soup fog has enveloped the Middle East and the emergent cultures will only be known when the conditions settle over a lengthy period of time. Just as the Egyptian political terrain currently roils, so will chaos engulf the Middle East over the next many years. And those who say they can predict the outcomes with certainty are either braggarts or liars. Or both.