It’s a familiar story in democracies – a politician runs for office and is elected on a particular platform. Soon after taking office the realities of leadership force him to reign in his promises and govern more pragmatically. The story, it seems, translates into Arabic.
AN IDEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND
Egypt’s President, Mohammed Morsi, ran and was elected on an ideological platform. In the June elections, he ran as the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, which was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood. A prominent member of the Brotherhood, Morsi promised to lead Egypt in accordance with Islamic teachings.
A large part of Morsi’s success in the elections was this Islamic political ideology. After decades of human rights violations, authoritarian rule, and religious repression, Egyptians were excited to elect a vastly different leader. In many ways, Morsi represented the antithesis of Egypt’s longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in the early days of the Arab Spring. Mubarak was a secular leader: fearing the power of independent centers of power in Egypt, he ruled by squashing Islamic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The excitement of the Arab Spring has faded. Protesters have left the streets, journalists have flown home, and the elections are over. Morsi is now left to more mundane tasks, like actually governing. Though governing is mundane, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Morsi inherited an incredibly challenging set of problems from Mubarak and Egypt’s political institutions are hollowed out from years of authoritarian rule.
For the foreign policy and economic problems that Morsi faces, there are clear contradictions between the ideological choice and the pragmatic choice.
Morsi must decide on a new direction for foreign policy because under Mubarak, Egypt tied itself to the United States and failed to build strong relationships with its neighbors. It seemed plausible that as a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi would cut ties with the United States, abrogate the treaty with Israel, and strengthen ties with its more extreme Arab neighbors.
Fortunately, we have not seen this. Instead, Egypt has reaffirmed its ties to the US and its commitment to uphold existing treaties. Further, Egypt has recently rebuked Iranian attempts to deepen relations between the two countries. Clearly, on foreign policy Morsi is choosing the pragmatic path.
Egypt faces serious economic problems. Unemployment rates are high (particularly youth unemployment), there is rampant poverty, and government is falling deeper into debt. Of greater concern, Egypt lacks the requisite foundations for a strong economy because under Mubarak the state was largely dependent on foreign aid from the United States.
On the economy, Morsi is also letting pragmatics outweigh ideology. Initially, Morsi tried to rebuild the Egyptian economy without outside – especially Western – help. But Egypt faces serious economic problems that can’t be solved without international support. Fortunately, in the past month, Morsi has eased up and is now taking the more pragmatic path. He has applied for substantial loans from the IMF, he is negotiating a debt-relief agreement with the United States, and he is opening up Egypt to outside investment.
Egypt will have to tackle some serious problems in the future. Fortunately, Morsi has shown an ability to be pragmatic in dealing with foreign policy and economic issues. He will have to be careful when walking the fine line between ideology and pragmatism, or between what he campaigned on and how he governs. But looking on the bright side, at least the problems that Egypt faces today are democratic ones.