The president speaks
Rime Naguib Egypt Independent Sun, 16/12/2012 - 16:35
An analysis of Morsy’s speeches reveals some old habits
In recurrent speeches following mass protests against a controversial
declaration through which President Mohamed Morsy claimed sweeping powers
for himself, the country’s leader distinguished between “good opposition”
and “bad opposition.” In a 23 November speech, he compared the bad
opposition to termites eating through the bones of the nation, and called
for the “filtering and exclusion of such termites so that the country goes
The ensuing chaos and violent confrontations between his followers and
opponents prompted further addresses by the president. Throughout all
occasions, these addresses crystallized key and sometimes contradictory
Morsy delegitimatized his opposition by at times describing it as a detached
minority and at others as a dangerous conspiracy and a threat to stability.
On 6 December, Morsy was compelled to speak to the nation following the
clashes that broke out the day before around the presidential palace between
his supporters and opponents, which left at least seven dead and hundreds
In his 6 December speech, Morsy repeatedly referred to his opponents as a
minority that seemingly cannot come to terms with the will of the majority.
This minority is asked to “concede to the will of the people,” who have made
their choice in the elections, rather than pursue their “private interests,
or the will of particular parties and groups.”
Morsy thus reiterated the assumption largely held by the Muslim Brothers:
That they secure the backing of a vast majority of the populace, despite the
small margin by which Morsy has won the second round of the presidential
election against Ahmed Shafiq (including tactical votes). He also emptied
his opponents’ criticism of its content by positing that his decisions as
the elected president are in the ultimate interest of the nation, and any
opposition to them is moved by selfishness or mere elitism.
That is why the term “legitimacy,” referring to his popular mandate, is the
most recurrent word in Morsy’s discourse, as well as the accusation that his
opponents are seeking “to overturn legitimacy.” He justified the move to
immunize the Constituent Assembly in his decree — despite a widely
criticized draft constitution — by stressing the fact that it was elected by
an elected Parliament.
Likewise, he defended his decisions on the grounds of being an elected
“Isn’t that democracy?” he exclaimed. Since, according to Morsy, “the will
of the people cannot be expressed by angry crowds,” the ballot box is
posited as the epitome of democratic practice, and consequently,
“revolutionary legitimacy is over, and now it is popular legitimacy that
rules,” as he said in an interview on Egyptian TV on 29 November.
The underlying premise in this discourse is that people practice democracy
at the moment they choose their representatives, and the rest should be left
to the decision makers elected by them. That premise is seen in statements
like “the people have chosen, and now there are powers in charge of the
country,” and “this is democracy — when one comes [to office] through
elections, he becomes in charge. In the next elections, people have the
chance to say whether he did good or bad,” which came out during the 29
He deemed it sufficient to state that “the constitutional declaration
achieves the desires [of the people] and the necessities of this
[transitional] phase,” justifying such a statement with the claim that he
has studied the matter extensively, saying: “I lived among the people. I
have good knowledge of this society. I come from it and know who was doing
Another justification comes from the fact that he was elected to office: “It
is impossible for an elected president like me to use his powers to
oppress.” As if a matter of skill, Morsy likened good policy in his 29
November interview to “a very precise surgery” that Egypt needs at a
critical phase, insinuating that the elected president knows what’s good for
the people who elected him.
Not only is he entitled to make such decisions by virtue of being elected
and of having a good evaluation of the “critical situation” Egypt is going
through, but also from the position of a high-ranking official with special
knowledge of the whereabouts of corrupt individuals and conspiring agents.
He thus defended secrecy as a pillar of good politics.
“I have information,” Morsy states repeatedly. When asked by the interviewer
on state TV about the details of the conspiracy he often speaks about, he
preserved himself the privilege to withhold them.
“It is my job to protect the homeland from any conspiracy. I have more
information [than others] as the president of the republic, and it is my
duty to intervene when I sense that the country is in danger,” he said.
“This is the role of the leadership. If such information is disclosed, it
could be harmful rather than beneficial,” he added in his 29 November
Morsy thus needed to maintain a discourse of perpetual danger impending upon
the nation. In his last speech, he states outright that he was compelled to
issue his decree because of the great danger threatening the nation.
As he failed to mention convincing arguments for this lurking threat, Morsy
used vague phrasings to insinuate that something is being planned against
“For instance — just an example — a person who was a defendant in the case
of the Battle of the Camel held a meeting the other day!” and “Those who
hide abroad and contact people inside ... I know what you’re up to!” he said
in his 23 November speech.
According to Morsy’s scheme, “the enemies of the people” — the feloul, or
supporters of the Hosni Mubarak regime — wish to bring Egypt back to the
days of the old regime: “They don’t want Egypt to stand on its feet.”
“The forces of evil” and the “conspirators” in Morsy’s narrative are
“abusing the difference of opinion” to advance their private interests, and
to slow down revolutionary progress. The conspirators are people who
accumulated riches through corruption under Mubarak and wish to stall the
building of state institutions. The stolen money — the story goes — is used
to hire thugs to create chaos and overturn decisions by the president that
reflect the will of the nation.
In his last speech on 6 December, Morsy asserted that the armed thugs who
killed the protesters in front of the presidential palace on 5 December were
arrested, and indeed confessed having been paid by the suspected feloul,
which he abstained from naming. Morsy even specified that 40 out of 80
arrested armed thugs confessed that they were paid and revealed their ties
with “certain political forces.”
He implicitly declared that “the third party” has been revealed. It is the
sponsors of thugs “inside and outside the country,” those who seek “to burn
the country and destroy it.” Those unknown individuals have “infiltrated the
ranks of the people of opinion,” according to him, and as a consequence have
deceived the latter into taking a path of opposition that essentially
overturns legitimacy and legality and caters to the vicious plans of the
Threat to stability
Morsy’s attempt to sound like a representative of the will and the good of
the whole nation has also propped words such as “stability,” “security,”
“production,” “prosperity” and “progress” in his speeches since the
beginning of the crisis over the constitutional declaration. His defense of
his decree is underlined by a key argument: “We need to have a constitution
in place as soon as possible so we may finally enjoy stability, security and
begin to work and produce. Otherwise, we’ll never be done with it!,” he said
on the 29 November interview.
To prove that his decree is just what Egypt currently needed, although he
canceled it with another decree later on removing some of the contentious
matters under pressure, Morsy constructed a linear progression that starts
with his struggle for democracy under toppled President Hosni Mubarak,
through the revolution, and up to the series of elections that were held
since January 2011, namely the referendum on the constitutional amendments
and the parliamentary and presidential elections.
“We are walking on a clear path and toward a great target that is a new
stable Egypt,” he said in his 23 November speech, placing himself on a
continuum of revolutionary achievements.
He spoke on behalf of those who toppled the old regime.
“We, the 20 million Egyptians, must work together to carry out development,
just as we managed to change the regime,” he said on the 29 November
Borrowing from Mubarak’s lexicon of stability, Morsy asserted that protests
are permissible, but not those that hinder production or traffic. In his 6
December speech, instead of addressing the accusation to his party that they
incited their supporters to attack the sit-in in front of the presidential
palace on 5 December, he blamed the opponents of the decree for resorting to
violence “deliberate killing, vandalizing and terrorizing,” and for “halting
the production process” and “tarnishing Egypt’s image.”
“I like the protesters, they are brothers and sisters, but I want them to
produce, so that internal affairs may stabilize. It’s better that we go
produce and protest in the evening. We should not halt production in the
factory. We have many youth who ought to live, marry and be stable, and
Egypt must rise,” said the president in the state TV interview.
This piece appears in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.