I was stunned when George W. Bush won a second term in office in 2004. The popular reaction to the war on Iraq and subsequent calls for impeaching the president gave any outsider the impression that not one single American would make the same mistake again. It was indeed such a miracle to see him reelected that evangelical churches started talking, seriously so, about some divine intervention. When I asked the Americans I knew, all of them, including those who did not vote for Bush, had almost the same answer: he was not doing bad domestically. This was more or less how political analysts interpreted it, too. So, basically a considerable number of voters seemed willing to forgive Bush for his foreign policy blunders, fatal as they were, because he offered them something that might have struck a balance and actually managed to convince a sizable portion of the population to see some bright side to the war on terror.
Mohammed Mursi tried to play a similar game in a reverse manner when he tried to make up for domestic failure with what he assumed, or rather wanted us to believe, was foreign policy achievement. The first time was during his electoral campaign when the program he offered, and which was marketed by the Muslim Brotherhood as a one-of-a-kind project that would make of Egypt the world’s ultimate superpower in no time, boiled down to nothing whatsoever. This lack of vision had to be compensated with an external cause that is known for its popularity amongst all of Egyptians and that was nothing other than Palestine. Mursi was hailed by his supporters as the Saladin of the twenty first century and slogans about liberating Jerusalem eventually superseded all pressing local issues that were supposed to top any candidate’s agenda. Apart from strategic votes, basically cast by intellectuals and revolutionaries who did not want to see Mursi’s rival become president of Egypt and preferred an Islamist to a member of the former regime, some average citizens were actually affected by the Jerusalem rhetoric, especially insofar as it places Mursi in stark contrast with Mubarak, who was known for his alliance with Israel at the expense of the Palestinian cause.
Heroic, trans-border act
Mursi, therefore, must have assumed he can pull this heroic, trans-border act every time he is unable to abide by the president’s job description, forgetting that one year into his term, anger was mounting to such a level that made it impossible for pretentious chivalry to make his situation the slightest bit better. When he decided to hold a conference in support of Syria in a stadium packed with his Islamist supporters and announce severing diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime, Mursi made a bunch of miscalculations that rendered his magnanimous feat just another proof of his absolute lack of credibility as well as a frantic attempt to emotionally blackmail a population that is vehemently opposed to the atrocities committed against the Syrian people. His announcement came immediately after the American Administration made public its intention to arm Syrian revolutionaries, so it was obvious that closing down the Syrian embassy in Cairo was far from being an independent decision solely made for supporting the national and humanitarian cause of a neighboring country.
It was also hardly a coincidence that the conference was two weeks before massive protests are scheduled to take place in front of the presidential palace to demand that the president step down and, therefore, betrayed how desperate the president is to garner as much support as he could get and to dissuade as many people as possible from joining the protests. While the president might have presumed that the timing of the conference was part of a shrewd plan to undermine the conspiracy to overthrow him, I am not sure he believed that he was being subtle about the link between the two events when he in a function allegedly dedicated to Syria, he explicitly lashed out at the opposition and accused them of attempting to being back the former regime.
Had all of the above not betrayed the president’s intentions, his choice of audience would have undoubtedly gotten the job done. The president made sure to create the overwhelming spectacle of a legendary leader and a cheering crowd and that would not have been possible had he invited members of the opposition or even ordinary Egyptian citizens outside the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions. For some strange reason, he still presumed he can fool the people through portraying his supporters as the righteous majority and his detractors as the delinquent minority. It was also obvious that he wanted to guarantee the loyalty of ultra-conservative Islamists so that in return for supporting their fellow-Jihadists in Syria, they would rally by his side against the opposition and maybe manage to crush the protests and or at least scare off the protesters or both. The response was quicker than expected with one fatwa after the other sanctioning the bloodshed of the “infidels” setting out to undermine the president’s “legitimacy.”
Most dangerous of all, the president has in fact subscribed to the sectarian rhetoric that is currently dominating the conflict in Syria, thus presenting the Syrian revolution as a war between Sunnis and Shiites and attempting to transfer this divide to Egypt. In doing so, he seemed to want to divert the popular stance on Syria so that instead of supporting the Syrian people’s right to freedom and democracy regardless of religious affiliations, Egyptians would start perceiving the revolution as a war for Islam and hopefully applying the same logic on the domestic level through dealing with the regime-opposition confrontation as one between Muslims and apostates.
It is interesting to see how none of the schemes, if they can be labeled as such, behind the impressive rally bore fruit if only because they were so poorly orchestrated and even more poorly carried out. This is simply because while someone like Bush made mistakes externally, he had something to offer internally, Mursi has nothing to offer on any front. True, he might have championed a legitimate cause, yet did so for all the wrong reasons and, therefore, is turning his aspired victories into irreversible losses.